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[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]

Monday, May 29, 2000

• 1535


The Chair (Mr. Stan Keyes (Hamilton West, Lib.)): Good afternoon, colleagues. We are meeting pursuant to Standing Order 81(6), the main estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2001: vote 15 under Privy Council and votes 1, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 and 35 under Transport Canada.

We welcome back the Minister of Transport and those assistant deputies who work with the minister on a daily basis.

Colleagues, this is a return by the minister to our committee because back on May 16, when we had the minister before us on estimates, we were interrupted constantly by voting. The minister kindly agreed to return to the committee so he could answer more of our questions.

Minister, did you want to make any comments before we go to questions?

The Honourable David M. Collenette (Minister of Transport): Well, I have another long speech if you'd like.

The Chair: No, we'll save the speech for a bigger crowd. Did you want to make any statements before we begin?

Mr. David Collenette: No. I'm all yours.

The Chair: All right.

Colleagues, I have before me a list of questioners from May 16. We'd already gone through seven questioners, so as promised at the last meeting, I will pick up the list of questioners from where we left off so everyone gets a fair shot. We'll begin with Michel Guimond, then Mr. Calder, Mr. Casey, Mr. Hilstrom, and Mr. Drouin. And I'll take anybody else who wants to raise their hand.

Mr. Guimond, please.


Mr. Michel Guimond (Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans, BQ): Mr. Minister, when Joe Randell testified before the committee I showed him a report describing the maintenance status of Air Nova's fleet of aircraft since the decision was made to transfer the maintenance base from Quebec to Halifax.

I understand that this was a business decision, a decision taken by a company, which the government was not a party to. However, one aspect concerns me and that is air safety. You state in a number of speeches that you make in the House and elsewhere—it is not surprising that you would adopt such rhetoric, or say such things, as you are Minister of Transport—that safety is Transport Canada's number one priority.

Mr. Minister, if safety is the Transport Canada's number one priority, I would like to know whether there was an in-depth inspection following Air Nova's decision to transfer certain maintenance functions from Quebec to Halifax. This report mentions a focus group; some employees were members of that group and were questioned about the state of maintenance of the aircraft. The Air Alliance employees in Quebec expressed the opinion that they no longer have the time to do preventive maintenance, as they used to before. They stated that their aircraft are not as well maintained as they used to be.

What do you have to say, as Minister, to reassure someone who, like me, makes return flights between Quebec and Ottawa 26 weeks a year on Air Nova?

The Hon. David Collenette: Mr. Chairman, I was told that regular maintenance inspections were carried out on the fleets of all of the country's airlines. Up until now there were no annual inspections at Air Nova but we will ensure that such inspections take place in the very near future. According to Mr. Jackson, the Assistant Deputy Minister, Safety and Security, and his officials who are responsible for such inspections, there are no problems at Air Nova. I was assured that Air Nova was a safe company. If you have witnessed certain problems I will ask that that information be conveyed to my office as soon as possible.

• 1540

The problems you raise may be arguments put forward by the unions. I can however state that there are no safety problems in general at Air Nova. Perhaps Mr. Jackson would like to add a few words.

Mr. Ron Jackson (Assistant Deputy Minister, Safety and Security, Department of Transport): Thank you, Mr. Minister.


We will be looking at the internal report done by the Air Nova employees to see whether there's anything in there that will cause us to do further investigation. But the minister is right, there is not a safety issue today.


Mr. Michel Guimond: In another connection, Mr. Minister, I would like to discuss the amendments I mentioned to you and did table, concerning the Official Languages Act, including its application to Air Canada. I attempted right up to the last possible minute to change your mind and have you accept the amendments that I tabled on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, amendments which were related to the demands of the Gens de l'air. You may noted that the Gens de l'air have reacted since, which is their legitimate right. We have not had time to discuss this very much in the House. Why did you reject my proposed amendments to Bill C-26 concerning official languages?

Mr. David Collenette: Firstly, Mr. Chairman, Air Canada is a private company even though it is subject to the same rules as Crown corporations. Our intention with this bill is to extend the official languages provisions to Canadian Airlines and its affiliates, especially where client services are concerned.

As to working conditions, I believe these fall under provincial jurisdiction. The federal government wishes to maintain the current official languages provisions and extend them to Canadian Airlines and its affiliates.

As you know, before this bill was tabled, there was a court case having to do with the application of the Official Languages Act to Air Canada's affiliated companies. Through this bill we have finalized the arguments made before the courts, because Canada's law will henceforth clearly stipulate that the Official Languages Act does apply to all of Air Canada's affiliates as well as to Canadian Airlines and its affiliates. It is natural for the Gens de l'air to raise these arguments.

Our government and myself want to say that we are entirely satisfied with the situation that prevails currently insofar as the use of French in the air is concerned, because there is no risk to passenger safety. We have acquired extensive experience in the course of the past 20 to 25 years. I was an MP 24 years ago, in 1976, when this wide-ranging debate was held. Mr. Caccia and myself were two anglophone members who supported the Gens de l'air at that time. Although I am a member from the Toronto area, I want to state clearly that French in the air is a priority for us, a fundamental issue, and does not jeopardize safety in any way. I am very proud that Canada can use both official languages without incidents.

• 1545


The Chair: Colleagues, at our last meeting, on May 16, the Department of Transport committed to a written response to questions raised by Mr. Casey, Mr. Hubbard, and Ms. Meredith, and we've just distributed the answers to those questions to you all.

Mr. Fontana, please.

Mr. Joe Fontana (London North Centre, Lib.): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

To the minister, with regard to the supplements and the passage of the bill on airline restructuring, I just want to ask whether provisions have been made in these estimates, or whether it will have to be on the supplementary estimates, with regard to the positions of complaints commissioner that we in fact have put in place, and obviously any other monitoring that will be done by the CTA and the Competition Bureau—I know the Competition Bureau is outside your jurisdiction and is more in industry—in order for us to make sure all the resources are deployed, so that in fact we can track what is happening and what will happen in the airline industry over the course of the next six months specifically, or two years. I'd like to know whether or not there are additional resources or all of the resources required to ensure that customers are being protected.

Mr. David Collenette: First of all, in the short run, on the issues dealing with the CTA's powers on monopoly pricing, I believe we are making some funds available through our reference levels on a short-term basis for the CTA, but full-time funding will be sought and will be available in the supplementaries. That also of course will deal with the extra commissioner and the staff that will be required as a result of this committee's agreement to add the extra commissioner. So that will all be in the supplementary estimates.

Mr. Joe Fontana: As a supplementary to that, Mr. Chairman, in light of what's just happened in the United States with the merger of the number one airline and the number six airline, I believe United and USAir.... In fact they will have to seek regulatory approval, of course, in the United States and be subject, I think, to some sort of approvals, even through the European Commission. I'm just wondering, in light of the fact that Air Canada and United are Star Alliance partners and code-share now.... We already have a pretty big monopoly, with Air Canada representing 80% domestically, I think, and as much internationally. The fact that United would be merging with USAir, essentially from a north-south fact, again, the choices will be diminished by Canadians, or Americans for that matter, having another airline to move north-south.

I'm just wondering whether or not, first, you're troubled by that thing, and second, whether or not any of our regulatory bodies will be looking at that situation as it relates to our situation in Canada.

As you know, witness after witness, including this committee, is still rather nervous about a monopoly and how that monopoly conducts itself with regard to the customers. But now that you have a Star Alliance partner essentially taking out another competitor, I don't think that bodes well for the travelling public in North America, let alone Canada.

So I'm just wondering about the broader issue: Does this merger cause you some sort of concern, and what will we do to look at it to ensure that in fact it doesn't negatively impact Canadians?

I'll just leave it at that.

Mr. David Collenette: Mr. Chairman, we obviously have had concerns expressed about Air Canada's dominant position with 80% of the market, and this committee has tried to deal with it—we have, as a government, in the legislation—and that is the extent of our jurisdiction on the domestic scene.

With respect to the question of the United States, that is really a matter for U.S. regulatory authority. We have open skies, and in the same way as the American authorities have accepted the consolidation of Air Canada and Canadian Airlines without reservation, because it is not within their conpetence to deal with it, so we must also respect their jurisdiction.

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Therefore, if this were to be approved we would have to accept it, but there are competition arguments that will be made in the U.S. similar to what have been made here. This is a little different, because here it was done to stave off the bankruptcy of Canadian Airlines and the loss of 14,000 jobs to maintain service to cities. There it's simply a question of consolidation.

The U.S. has a certain track record on consolidation and mergers. We saw it recently in the technology sector with respect to Microsoft. They have a long history, going back to the late nineteenth century and early part of this century, of dealing with the powers of the trusts—Standard Oil in New Jersey, for example, and others.

So it's not inconceivable that the U.S. may act in a way that is negative, but that is simply their view. That is their authority. Because we have open skies with the U.S., we accept U.S. carriers provided they're certified to fly and meet FAA standards, which of course meet Transport Canada standards.

The Chair: Mr. Hilstrom, please.

Mr. Howard Hilstrom (Selkirk—Interlake, Canadian Alliance): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I have a couple of questions.

You have shared responsibility, I believe, with the Navigable Waters Protection Act—

Mr. David Collenette: We have some, yes.

Mr. Howard Hilstrom: —and also the Canada Shipping Act.

What has your department done in the past—or is it still concerned or involved with this—in terms of any aspect of public works or other ministries in regard to dredging? We have float planes operating on the Red River in the Manitoba area. They've been calling us up and saying that as a result of the lack of dredging, they're concerned about their float planes.

Do float planes, that type of commercial air service, come under your department at all?

Mr. David Collenette: First of all, on the question of dredging, that now has been transferred to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, but there are some cases, and Mr. Jackson will perhaps talk about them, where we still have some residual authority for dredging, or at least we're still doing it.

On the issue of float planes, I'm not sure what aspect you're talking about, because for aircraft we obviously have responsibilities. For a float plane landing on water we have responsibility in terms of designating aerodromes. For example, we just designated Victoria Harbour as an aerodrome. Other aspects of that particular issue would apply to DFO.

Mr. Howard Hilstrom: What I'm getting at is that it seems in the case of departmental overlap and responsibility some operators are getting left to fall through the cracks, so to speak. As I say, the air service I'm talking about has worked for many years on the same stretch of river. Every year there was dredging, and then there wasn't. So we have a bit of a safety issue coming up.

Of course, they're being very careful themselves, and they'll make sure there isn't any problem. I'm just saying there's an overlap there.

There is a main question I want to ask here. Our Hudson Bay Route Association in Manitoba is still very concerned about the operation up to Churchill, the rail lines and of course the port operation itself. Now, it's my understanding—and I believe this is history, but I'd like you to confirm it for me—that the port is being operated essentially by Omnitrax now.

Mr. David Collenette: It was sold to Omnitrax.

Mr. Howard Hilstrom: Okay. With Omnitrax operating that, when you divested the port and that, do you feel you still have a responsibility in that regard? What I'm coming to is this: Have you considered in your upcoming legislation the impact it will have on Omnitrax as to the grain movement through to that port?

Now, you've divested the port. If it doesn't make money and continue to operate, I assume you'll end up getting the port back. In the meantime, when you bring in new legislation, as you're doing in the next few days with the Grain Transportation Act, are you taking into consideration Omnitrax and the Hudson Bay rail system?

Mr. David Collenette: But if you're talking about the viability of the Omnitrax operation, it appears to us to be quite viable. I mean, they bought the rail line and they bought the port for a certain consideration from the federal government, not necessarily from our department but from WED. It was a package deal. It was a package deal that made sense to Omnitrax and made sense to the crown.

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We have no reason to believe those operations, both at the port and on the rail line, would be unprofitable.

Mr. Howard Hilstrom: At that time did they take it into account that you might well regulate downwards the revenues they could receive? Was that part of the negotiations, and was that in there?

Mr. David Collenette: I can't answer this. Perhaps one of my officials who was involved in the negotiations can.

I would assume that this would not have been specifically addressed in the negotiations. I also would have assumed that the lawyers from Omnitrax were well aware of the constitutional authority of the federal government with respect to railways and the jurisdiction of the CTA and the whole regulatory role we have had in the haulage of grain.

Mr. Howard Hilstrom: Okay.

That's fine. Thanks, Mr. Chairman.

The Chair: Thanks, Mr. Hilstrom. We'll certainly get into that a little deeper as early as next week, when Omnitrax will be before us as one of the witnesses. The minister and his officials will be back as well, so....

Mr. David Collenette: I don't know, Mr. Chair, if Mr. Jackson wanted to say something about Mr. Hilstrom's first point.

The Chair: Mr. Jackson, did you want to add something there?

Mr. Ron Jackson: Just that as far as the Navigable Waters Protection Act is concerned, it was previously the Minister of Transport, but with the move of the Canadian Coast Guard to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, that responsibility went to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.

The Chair: Thanks, Mr. Jackson.


Mr. Drouin, please.

Mr. Claude Drouin (Beauce, Lib.): Mr. Collenette, I wanted to get back to the issue of services in both official languages. You said that in the course of the past 25 years passenger safety has been ensured, even though pilots communicate with air traffic controllers in both official languages. All the better, and we all hope that that will continue to be the case.

Do I understand that there were problems involving client services in both official languages at Air Canada and its affiliates? People seem to be saying that service has deteriorated. Have you heard anything about this?

Mr. David Collenette: I have not received any reports concerning a decrease in services in one official language. A transition period is to be expected, however, within Air Canada's affiliates, especially an affiliate such as Air BC, as well as within Canadian Airlines and its affiliated companies. Certain passengers may feel that services are less than satisfactory, but I must tell you that generally speaking we have not received complaints in that regard.

Mr. Claude Drouin: Thank you.

In another connection, I would like to broach the issue of railway transportation. We know that big companies have withdrawn their services in numerous regions. Has your department considered the possibility of setting aside certain funds, for instance $75 million a year, to grant loans to private companies who would be interested in providing service in the regions? In our area in particular, there is a shortage of truck drivers at this time. We also have problems with regard to the environment and the maintenance of our road network. It is much more expensive to use semi-trailers rather than trains to transport merchandise. I think that you could really help private railway companies by granting them loans to provide service in our regions.

Mr. David Collenette: We are in a position to say that our railway safety system is excellent and that our laws in that area are very strong. Short-line railways and small railway companies fall under the jurisdiction of the provinces, where safety regulations that are derived from federal law are applied.

Mr. Jackson, who is responsible for security, can provide further details. Once again, I must say that I have not received any systematic complaints about safety problems on short-line railways.

Mr. Claude Drouin: Mr. Minister, my question was not about safety primarily, but about a start-up subsidy program to enable the launching of new companies in the regions. Among other possibilities, I have in mind a program similar to the Quebec Government program.

• 1600

Mr. David Collenette: I will ask Mr. Ranger to reply to your question.

Mr. Louis Ranger (Assistant Deputy Minister, Policy, Department of Transport): I believe you are referring to Quebec's program...

Mr. Claude Drouin: The CFIL.

Mr. Louis Ranger: ...which helps with the start-up of new businesses. For many years our department has been advocating the development of a land transportation strategy that goes beyond roads, a broader strategy. Within the framework of that strategy we would create a federal envelope and the provinces could choose to invest in road or railway transportation. Unfortunately, some very modest sums were set aside in the last budget for road transportation. Our department continues to advocate more generous envelopes in order to encourage this type of initiative.

Mr. Claude Drouin: So, you are open to the idea. You have answered my question, and I thank you.

The Chairman: Thank you, Claude.


Roy Bailey.

Mr. Roy Bailey (Souris—Moose Mountain, Canadian Alliance): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Going through the estimates, Mr. Minister, I don't see any direct reference to your department's involvement in the any way. When I was looking at some of the material on the United States, I saw the amount of money that the departments funnel into researching highways, different landing craft, and so on.

Does your department have research on its own, or do you funnel all of your research projects through the National Research Council?

Mr. David Collenette: Mr. Jackson's going to reply to that one.

Mr. Ron Jackson: Mr. Bailey, Transport Canada does have a research and development program. We have a research centre in Montreal, called the Transport Development Centre, that manages research contracts in the field of transportation.

I think the amount of money we spend each year is modest. We probably spend no more than $15 million or so on research programs directed at a range of things in all modes of transportation—marine safety, arctic marine transportation, aviation, intelligent transportation systems, and so on.

We're also involved with the Department of Natural Resources in terms of energy research and development, looking at more efficient vehicles and dealing with such things as climate change and so on. It's an active program but modest.

Mr. Roy Bailey: Are any of these research projects done in cooperation with the private sector? Could you just give me an idea of what current research projects are ongoing at the present time?

Mr. Ron Jackson: We can get you a copy of the annual report, which outlines the full details of the program.

Mr. Roy Bailey: Would you, please?

Mr. Ron Jackson: Yes.

In answer to your specific question, we do try to leverage more than one-to-one in terms of government funding and industry partnership in the funding of these projects. One example of an industry-government partnership is the Ballard fuel cell, which is the well-known technology for powering automobiles. There's a venture between Ballard, the Ford Motor Company, and the government in terms of sharing resources in this research undertaking.

We'll get you a copy of the R and D annual report so that you can have a look at the full scope of the projects.

Mr. Roy Bailey: Thank you.

The Chair: Thanks, Mr. Bailey.


Mr. St-Julien.

Mr. Guy St-Julien (Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik, Lib.): We have to look at operation hypotheses. I have just returned from northern Nunavik where I met with several mayors. The representatives of Makivik and more particularly their associates from Air Inuit and First Air are very worried about Bill C-26. Air Inuit has approximately 200 employees and annual sales of $35 million, while First Air has 1,000 employees and annual sales of $180 million. On May 2, if I remember correctly, we heard the testimony of the President of First Air, Mr. Davis, who expressed his deep concern with regard to clauses 64 and 66 of Bill C-26. I am under the impression that Air Canada does not intend to respect Quebec and the northern municipalities of Nunavik. It has concluded commercial agreements in the Canadian West, and Canadian and its affiliate Canadian North do not have operating permits. It is Nordair that held the operating permit. First Air has its counters and employees who work in the field, in its airports and with cargo, whereas Air Canada has nothing. It rents or passes things on to Canadian North.

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What is very worrisome in all of that, especially after hearing the testimony of Mr. Bob Davis, is that one feels that Bill C-26 could cause problems for the northern regions. I respect Air Canada but before I will defend it in the northern sector of Nunavik, I am going to defend our friends the Inuits at First Air and Air Inuit.

I would like you to tell me how we can find solutions in the face of Mr. Davis's testimony. Will there be amendments or will Transport Canada find the ideal solution? Air Canada has never exploited the northern regions and does not know the North and Canadian North knows it even less, because the company is only passing through, as it were, that region.

What I want to hear from you, Mr. Minister, is a description of what the future holds for the northern Inuit.

Mr. David Collenette: As for operations in the northern reaches of Canada or northern Quebec by Air Canada, the decision will be market-driven. I am told that private companies such as First Air and others provide good service.

I am more concerned by the regulations that will have to be brought in in order to protect northern travellers who want to go to the rest of the country or abroad. That is why the bill contains provisions on interlining, for instance, involving companies that are allied with Air Canada or its affiliates. That is why we have presented amendments on the powers of the Transportation Agency with regard to pricing and rates.

That also explains why in this bill we have introduced amendments to the Competition Act, to protect new companies who want to provide the service, such as WestJet and the others, and perhaps companies such as First Air that will launch a service to provide an alternative to Air Canada. As for Air Canada's presence in northern Quebec or northern Canada, that will be a business decision.

Mr. Guy St-Julien: I see, a commercial decision. But how can you equate the two, when you know that Air Canada has sales of $10 billion a year while First Air has sales of $180 million? Moreover, we know that First Air is currently the second largest company in Canada.

Nor do we know what is being discussed by the board of directors of Air Canada. I am nevertheless under the impression that the company intends to crush us in the North. It intends to crush First Air and Air Inuit, in my opinion. I believe it will act through the West to get to Nunavut indirectly, and then it will come and crush us with its economic weight. Air Canada and Canadian North do not provide any service to Nunavik's northern region. I have the feeling that they want to crush us.

I'm telling you what I feel and what the Inuit who are in the area are feeling at this time. That is why and want your officials to read Mr. Bob Davis's May 2 testimony very carefully, and take it into consideration. It is important.

Mr. David Collenette: Mr. Ranger will answer you.

Mr. Louis Ranger: I am not acquainted with that testimony and I don't want you to think that we are defending Air Canada. However, as it is the dominant carrier, we feel that it would be in Air Canada's commercial interest to offer adequate service. Similarly, Air Canada is not used to providing service to Asia but could acquire the necessary expertise and take advantage of others' experience to meet the demand in that part of the world.

In the same spirit, I am ready, at this time, in any case, to give Air Canada the benefit of the doubt and to see what happens. Time will tell how it will serve the clientele.

Mr. Guy St-Julien: Mr. Ranger, you give Air Canada the benefit of the doubt, but we know that the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec are trustees of the James Bay Agreement. I hope that you will read it and I hope that you will also acquaint yourself with Mr. Bob Davis's testimony.

• 1610

As for giving Air Canada the benefit of the doubt, I have to tell you that I don't think that will pan out.


The Chair: The legislation did provide.... I think the minister already said that we have a watchdog. The watchdog has to report every six months to this government and this Parliament and the Canadian people.

We also have the review of the CTA coming in June, so we'll be able to look at that as well. If that circumstance should develop, we have the mechanisms in place to address it.

Mr. David Collenette: May I just say one thing on the question of the watchdog? You mention that it reports every six months. There is an impression that has gotten out there, which we're trying to correct with letters to the editor, that somehow the commissioner reports to me or to Parliament through me every six months. In other words, it just hoards up all the complaints and then reports. That is absolutely not true.

The truth of the matter, as you know, is that we're going to establish a full commissioner who is going to be on the job every day with a dedicated staff that will monitor all these complaints, deal with the complaints, and refer to the CTA itself or to the Competition Bureau or to the courts to act as a mediator and to have the powers to produce documents. So it's erroneous for people to think that somehow it's just going to report every six months and then people will forget about a complaint.

The point you raised about the reporting, which is a valid one, led me to make a statement to emphasize that the impression the media have out there is the wrong one. I'm trying to correct that.

The Chair: Mr. Hilstrom.

Mr. Howard Hilstrom: In regard to legislative regulatory initiatives, page 47 of the report, I see this was signed off by Deputy Minister Bloodworth, I believe it is, on March 7. You indicate that you're going to introduce the proposed Grain Transportation Act by June 2000, which you of course indicated today. You indicate also that under direct outputs, there is a communications and consultation strategy to keep stakeholders informed during the legislative process.

I find something very strange. Today in Manitoba, the newspapers have some of your communications strategy coming out in a “Dear Editor” letter. It goes through to describe this legislation, the whole system, and how everything is going to work and all that. But it's not signed by Mr. Collenette. It's signed by Mr. Goodale.

My question to you, Minister, is who is speaking for the transportation ministry, you or Mr. Goodale?

Mr. David Collenette: What we agreed was that in certain cases, such as replying to some letters in western Canada that largely dealt with the role of the Wheat Board, Mr. Goodale would sign the letters. But he has sent the letters to us for our input.

Rather than having a three-headed monster waiting around for signatures, there are certain cases where he will be replying directly. As the lead minister on the file, obviously I'm involved, but let's face it; he is from Saskatchewan and he's responsible for the Wheat Board, which is one of the components of this change. As part of the government strategy, he obviously will take the lead in western Canada in explaining the government's position.

Mr. Howard Hilstrom: Mr. Minister, the Wheat Board is one of the components of this, but there are an awful lot of players in this rail grain transportation that are not the Wheat Board. The Wheat Board only handles wheat and barley. Besides that, you have all the other shippers that are going to be affected by this and the marketing of the other grains. I've mentioned Omnitrax, which is going to be coming up.

It just seems to me—and I'd sure like to be corrected on this—that the Wheat Board is running these grain transportation changes as opposed to the Government of Canada and you as the minister representing transportation in this country.

• 1615

Mr. David Collenette: That couldn't be further from the truth, Mr. Chairman. The fact is that Mr. Goodale, Mr. Vanclief, and I were the ones who worked on this file for two years. We had responsibility for various components. Transport Canada was the lead ministry. The three of us signed the memorandum to cabinet. The provisions were the result of a consensus we had reached. Therefore, if Mr. Goodale speaks on this, he speaks for me and Mr. Vanclief as well as himself. By the same token, when I speak, I speak for Mr. Goodale and I speak for Mr. Vanclief.

It's just a question of practicality. The fact is that I have regional responsibilities for Toronto as well as being Minister of Transport. Obviously, if this applied to the Greater Toronto Area, I have duties that I would take a lead in more than Mr. Goodale. Mr. Goodale is from western Canada, he has a responsibility for one of the components in this, and he is a co-signer. It is an action of three of us in concert. We're speaking with one voice, no matter which one of us speaks.

Mr. Howard Hilstrom: Certainly Minister Goodale is speaking on behalf of the Canadian Wheat Board, but what we're finding in western Canada is that he doesn't speak for the big picture of rail transportation. That's what we had expected that the minister, yourself, would be doing. As a result, this tripartite type of ministry that you've put together, the three of you acting as one, has resulted in us trying to pass this legislation, I suppose.... Is the objective still to pass it by the next crop year?

Mr. David Collenette: Well, if we want farmers to share in the benefits of $178 million, I would hope that it's passed within the next few weeks so that the money could flow. Even though the bill was introduced later than we would have liked, I can't believe that any of us would want to unduly delay this legislation and deny producers the benefits of $178 million.

On the question of the triumvirate, in government initiatives of an interdisciplinary nature it's not unusual to have two or three or four ministers sign off on things. In fact, I regularly sign off on things with Mr. Dhaliwal, the fisheries minister, because of the overlap in regulations dealing with shipping. It's not unusual to have both of us speak on a particular matter.

For practical reasons, by virtue of Mr. Goodale's regional responsibilities and responsibility for the Wheat Board and natural resources, he is in western Canada more than I am. This obviously means that he is there and more able to respond on a day-to-day basis. But I'll be leading the charge at second reading on Thursday and I hope you listen to my speech and I hope you will come to the conclusion that I am indeed the guardian of the transportation oversight on this particular bill.

The Chair: Mr. Clouthier.

Mr. Hec Clouthier (Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, Lib.): Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I'm not looking at the big picture, Mr. Minister. I'm just looking at the snapshot of the upper Ottawa Valley. As I was perusing this information, I noticed that on interprovincial bridges....

It's rather propitious that I'm here because I was just raked over the coals this morning by the mayor of Rapides-des-Joachims because they want a new bridge. I see it's under PWGSC, under Public Works, and I'm just wondering if you have the sign-off authority on that from Minister Gagliano. I know you probably don't know of which I speak, but there's a little Bailey bridge up at Rapides-des-Joachims that goes over to Quebec from my riding. Mr. Minister, why would some be under Transport Canada and other ones under Public Works and Government Services Canada?

Mr. David Collenette: Well, we have to answer for all the sins of our forefathers in life and this may have been one of them. Over the years, for different political reasons at different times, bridges were built and they came under one department or another. For example, around Ottawa you have Public Works, you have the National Capital Commission, and maybe somebody else that has a responsibility for the bridges.

The Chair: The city.

Mr. Hec Clouthier: The NCC I see down here.

Mr. David Collenette: We have international bridges where the federal government has arm's-length authority, such as the Blue Water Bridge Authority.

The Chair: Didn't some of those bridges also...? The rail lines were involved. Usually a rail line ran under the bridge, under the road.

Mr. David Collenette: In some cases, but not always.

The Chair: Public Works took the ones that had nothing to do with transportation.

Mr. David Collenette: For example, the Champlain Bridge and the Jacques Cartier Bridge are bridges that we have transferred to the Federal Bridge Corporation. There were some that came under the seaway that have gone to the Federal Bridge Corporation.

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There's the issue of Sault Ste. Marie. When the Canadian part of it reverts back to Canada, the Province of Ontario doesn't want it, so it would revert to the Government of Canada, and we're debating internally as to whether that should revert to Transport Canada in its own right or to the Federal Bridge Corporation, or perhaps, as is more likely, we'd establish a bridge authority where there's local input but with oversight from the federal government. So there's all manner of reasons.

We have responsibility for fifteen bridges, there are 33 under Public Works and 99 under Parks Canada, and the NCC has three. Frankly, I would like to see all bridges, perhaps not some of the Parks Canada bridges within provincial parks, but by and large interprovincial bridges and—

The Chair: There you go, Hec. Put your name in for minister of bridges.

Voices: Oh, oh!

Mr. David Collenette: All those bridges come under the Federal Bridge Corporation. So this is a time of reorganization.

But having said that, Mr. Chairman, we have no money for bridges, unless of course the municipalities and the provinces want to agree to have a bridge built under the infrastructure program.

Mr. Hec Clouthier: Do I have a couple of minutes yet?

The Chair: Yes.

Mr. Hec Clouthier: A question that begs to be answered then is, would Public Works and Government Services have money? Because this is out of your jurisdiction. Am I reading you right? You said Transport Canada has fifteen, now Public Works and Government Services. So I go and pester Minister Gagliano if I want some money for this bridge. Am I reading you right when I say that?

Mr. David Collenette: You can go and ask him, sure.

Mr. Hec Clouthier: Okay.

Mr. David Collenette: He'll probably tell you the same thing, that he has no money.

Mr. Hec Clouthier: Yes, but I'll talk to him about that.

Now I can bug you on my pet peeve, which as you know is Highway 17, which goes under the sobriquet “Killer Strip”. I just want to get this straight in my mind. Has there been any change, Mr. Minister, in the allocation of federal funding to Highway 17, in particular to the three designated hot spots across the country, of which mine is one, as you well know?

Mr. David Collenette: Well, as you know, Mr. Chairman, the highway programs with Ontario, as with many provinces, have lapsed. We now have $600 million, just announced in the budget, that can be applied for national highways. We are consulting with the provinces, and Mr. Ranger has been across the country with Madam Robillard's officials on the infrastructure program, because there's some transportation overlap, consulting with the provinces on the design of the program. We hope to have that underway, or at least public, later this fall so that funds can start flowing next year.

There certainly is a case, in my view, for funds going into Highway 17, because of the volume of traffic on that highway and the fact that it is one of the more notorious highways in the country from the point of view of accident safety. But the decision to spend on that stretch of highway—whether under a municipal infrastructure program or under the straight federal-provincial agreements with the $600 million, or if it's increased, with whatever else we get—is the priority of the Government of Ontario. As long as it meets the criteria set down in the program, the province establishes the priority.

Mr. Hec Clouthier: Okay, so there could be some funding there. But I see Mr. Ranger shifting in his chair. He's probably saying “Oh, no! Now Clouthier's going to be after me on this.”

Voices: Oh, oh!

Mr. David Collenette: There's nothing shifty about Mr. Ranger.

Voices: Oh, oh!

Mr. Hec Clouthier: I meant he was shifting uneasily.

Mr. David Collenette: The bottom line is that once we get the program up and running, and if the $600 million is even augmented in subsequent budgets, the local communities have to take their case to Queen's Park and say they should spend there, rather than on the 403 or the 401 or Highway 11 or whatever else. That should be the priority.

Mr. Louis Ranger: If I shook my head, it was because the need, as measured in this country, just to repair the roads—we're not talking about expanding the road system, just repairing it—has been estimated at $17 billion, and the amount we have that has been allocated is $600 million over four years. So if I'm shaking my head, it's because I'm trying to reconcile all this and how to go about setting priorities.

Mr. Hec Clouthier: Okay.

The Chair: Thanks, Hec.

Bev Desjarlais.

Ms. Bev Desjarlais (Churchill, NDP): Since questions aren't getting asked about just the estimates, I'd like to ask a question in regard to the number of aviation inspectors. Actually I think it came up during the estimates sometime last year that there weren't enough aviation inspectors, and there was concern that there wouldn't be enough even within the workforce to get them into the system. Has anything been done in the area of aviation inspectors?

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Mr. David Collenette: Before I let Mr. Jackson answer that in detail, I have to tell you there was a story recently that somehow we are relaxing our standards by virtue of speeding up the cycle of approvals. We corrected the record, and that's why you haven't see any other stories. Mr. Jackson can give you the details.

The fact is we can adjust the safety inspection cycles to meet the production cycles of building aircraft, say a Bombardier. That does not mean a diminution. It means, in the same way Bombardier increases its productivity and production, we, by virtue of new techniques and new applications, can increase the productivity of Transport Canada inspectors.

But the good news—and Mr. Jackson will give the actual figure—is that we have hired more inspectors rather than having fewer inspectors.

Mr. Ron Jackson: Yes.

There were two issues. One was our ability to attract and retain inspection resources where we had funding for them, and the second was whether we had sufficient funding to hire as many people as we needed to do the job, given the workload out there. I'm happy to say on both counts the matters have been to a large extent addressed.

With respect to the first point, we went through a series of collective bargaining exercises last year, and I'm happy to say we have a better package for our people now than we did before that round of bargaining was concluded. Secondly, we did launch a very aggressive recruiting program, and that has been successful in replenishing our inventories. We now have a much better pool of people from which to select than before the campaign.

As far as the funding was concerned, we received additional resources for inspectors. That came out of the last budget in fact. We had some money previously, but I think it was $21 million that was added to the base for all modes. The predominant mode, though, was aviation. I think that probably results in some 150-odd inspectors being added to the base of what we already have.

So we've stemmed the tide of attrition because of the efforts we've taken. Our vacancy rate is now down below 5%, which is much better than it has been, and we've added new resources to the mix. So the problem that was there a year and a half or two years ago has to a large extent been addressed.

Ms. Bev Desjarlais: Thank you.

There is some concern with a monopoly carrier and maybe other carriers trying to cut costs at the expense of safety. Is there any plan to beef up inspections and maybe do some more in these early times of having a monopoly carrier or the risk of maybe some carriers cutting costs at the expense of safety?

Mr. Ron Jackson: We have a team now looking at the whole process of the Canadian-Air Canada amalgamation, and there is increased oversight in terms of watching both carriers, because as you know, the plan is that once they do merge, they will start operating under one series of documents rather than two, as they do today. Similarly, with respect to the formation of the national regional carrier with the amalgamation, that's also being looked at with the same kind of scrutiny as we're giving to the other.

Ms. Bev Desjarlais: Okay.

I'm going to give you a scenario, and I will put this in writing to get the information, but since you're a captive audience—the door is still locked—I'll ask you because you're here. Say on a direct flight from Ottawa to Vancouver, passengers get on the plane and are told they're going to have to stop in Winnipeg to take on more fuel, because they don't have enough fuel. On their flight it's mentioned, or it might have been mentioned right then. Or, they're told, thirty passengers will have to get off if they want enough fuel to get them to Vancouver, but they're running a little late. Then while they're on the flight, it also comes on over the intercom that although the pilots are over their required amount of hours, rather than delay them getting to Vancouver, they're going to continue on from Winnipeg to Vancouver. What would be your impression of this scenario?

Mr. Ron Jackson: I'd like to know more about it.

Mr. Michel Guimond: Hmm, very interesting.

Voices: Oh, oh!

Ms. Bev Desjarlais: That was the scenario out of Ottawa a week or so ago.

Mr. Michel Guimond: The press will appreciate that.

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Mr. David Collenette: Before we start telling all these horror stories, we really have to be a bit more reasonable about what's going on. You may be on to something, but let's find out what kind of plane it was and what the atmospheric conditions were that day. Let's find out about the passenger load and where those pilots came on. Did they come on during a stopover in say Halifax? We're pretty tough on pilots flying—

Ms. Bev Desjarlais: Fair enough. I did indicate that since you're here, I wanted to get your impression of it.

Mr. David Collenette: Just in case there's anybody from the media here, I don't want another story without details. It's fine to have exposés—

Ms. Bev Desjarlais: I did tell the member of Parliament who told me this that I would expect to get—

Mr. David Collenette: So it's hearsay.

Ms. Bev Desjarlais: Well, it's from a member of Parliament. Now, I can't—

Mr. David Collenette: That's hearsay.

Ms. Bev Desjarlais: No. They're representing Canada, and I hope they're all as truthful as I am.

The Chair: Thank you, Bev.

Mr. David Collenette: I'm sure they're all as truthful. I'm not sure about how accurate.

The Chair: We have five more minutes with the minister, and that's it. We have three questioners, one question each. They are Guy St-Julien, Roy Bailey, and Michel Guimond. Guy, a short question.


Mr. Guy St-Julien: To follow up on what I was saying earlier concerning the North, I have to add that the Inuit have a great deal of respect for you, Minister. They know that you are a man of action and that you bring your projects to fruition.

Here's my question. The KPMG study concerning the Quebec railway network, which was carried out in co-operation with the federal government, views certain things favourably. Via has been discussed, but at this time it would appear that CN is having greater difficulty ensuring the safety of its railways. We know that there was a derailment last week in the La Tuque area and that VIA can no longer get through. What does the future hold for VIA in the Val-d'Or region and in Senneterre, in the Abitibi region? What does the KPMG study say about the future of Quebec's railway system?


The Chair: Thanks, Mr. St-Julien.


Mr. David Collenette: As for Val-d'Or, you are referring to the possibility of extending railway service through VIA. Personally, I am in favour of such an extension because I think it holds potential for air and railway tourism travel. For instance, tourists can be transported from Montreal to Val-d'Or by train and from Val-d'Or to Montreal by plane. I'm currently examining a business plan before submitting it to Treasury Board, and I will ask VIA officials to consider the possibility of extending service or restoring service that was cut 10 years ago. We are going to examine each project individually.

Mr. Louis Ranger: I'm going to reply to your second question. As I explained to Mr. Drouin, we at the department have always talked about a road fund, but we believe that we should begin to think about a broader fund to support land transportation.

Mr. Guy St-Julien: How much money are you thinking of?

Mr. Louis Ranger: Well, rather than tell provinces that they would have a given amount for road transportation during the next four years, we could tell them that they will have a given amount for land transportation. In certain regions, it would be preferable to allocate the amount, whatever it may be, to rail transportation rather than to roads, because certain goods are better transported by rail. That is why we asked KPMG to carry out studies in Quebec, but we did that in all of the regions of the country as well. That was part of our thinking for the longer term. We should not stop with road transport, but look at the issue in a broader perspective.

Mr. Guy St-Julien: Will the committee be provided with a copy of the study?

Mr. Louis Ranger: The KPMG study?

Mr. Guy St-Julien: Yes.

Mr. Louis Ranger: I think so.

Mr. Guy St-Julien: Very well, thank you.


The Chair: Mr. Bailey, one question.

Mr. Roy Bailey: Mr. Minister, I'd like some clarification on your infrastructure grants as such. Who determines what type of activity, what kind of structure, and what kind of work project qualify for infrastructure grants? Of your department or the recipient, be it the provincial government or the municipal government, who makes the actual decision as to how much money goes to any given project?

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Mr. David Collenette: We have announced a certain amount of money in the infrastructure program. Officials are now consulting with the provinces on their expectations under that program. Of course, the expenditures have been specifically designated. For example, on municipal infrastructure it's socially assisted housing, transportation, environmental projects, such as sewage treatment and drinking water, which is particularly applicable given what has happened recently, and there may be one or two other areas. It would be up to cabinet to design a program for those funds.

It's the same for the $600 million on the highways. It will be spent on the national highway network. That's the 25,000 kilometres so designated by the council of ministers, including the federal government.

With regard to what specific projects get funded and in what amount, that is really a decision of the municipalities in consultation with the provinces, or in the case of the federal-provincial, it's simply by the provinces.

I'll give you one example. Right now we're involved in issues dealing with the need to fund the Greater Toronto waterfront redevelopment. Let's say that there was $300 million going to the City of Toronto over six years for the infrastructure. If the City of Toronto wanted to spend that money entirely on the redevelopment of the waterfront, then one would assume that most of the projects connected with that could be funded, because it's largely transportation. It's environmental cleanup of the river and realignment of the mouth of the Don River. All of the expenditures have to pass the test. But the actual priority would come from the municipalities, or in the case of the $600 million, from the provinces directly.

Mr. Roy Bailey: Thank you.

The Chair: Thanks, Roy.


Michel Guimond, please.

Mr. Michel Guimond: Minister, I'm going to make a comment instead of asking a question.

I would like you to thank on my behalf, the officials who prepared the “Federally-owned Bridge/Highway Infrastructure” table. This is a document that will be very useful to me. I am convinced that my colleague Mr. Hubbard will also find the document very useful, as will my colleague Val Meredith. I am somewhat tired of hearing that the federal government only maintains and operates the Jacques-Cartier and Champlain bridges in Montreal. I can see what there is in Cornwall, Sault Ste. Marie, Sarnia, Campbellton, Hamilton, Kingston and Selkirk in Manitoba. I see that the federal government owns 227 kilometres of the Trans-Canada Highway in Newfoundland, Alberta and British Columbia. This is a very well-crafted document that will be of great use to us. There are 150 bridges and road infrastructures throughout Canada. The government is responsible for more than the Jacques-Cartier and Champlain bridges. This will prevent certain colleagues from engaging in Quebec bashing.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. David Collenette: That was a statement, sir. It was not a question.

Mr. Michel Guimond: I had indeed said that I was going to make a statement.


The Chair: Mr. Drouin, one question. Are you all right?

Mr. Claude Drouin: Yes.

The Chair: Mr. Minister, thanks for coming before the committee on estimates.

I do have a request of you, in particular your officials. Provided the House time is there for second reading and we get through second reading in the House this week, we'll be dealing with the new grain bill as early as next Monday. On the Monday when you and your officials appear, we'd really appreciate it as a committee if there were good information on the background of each one of the clauses in the bill so that we can be fully informed and hit the ground running, as it were.

Time will be short, and we'll be working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on most days, colleagues, so please make adjustments to your schedules.

Thanks, Minister.

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Mr. David Collenette: We'll get that done, Mr. Chairman, because we want to assist you. We can do a compendium of all the background information that I and my other two colleagues have and make that available to you. If we could get it to you by Friday, I say to my officials, you could then read it over the weekend, and that would be helpful.

The Chair: Thank you.

Thank you, colleagues.

The meeting is adjourned.