Mr. Speaker, I intend to use fully those 15 minutes.
An hon. member: More, more.
Mr. Peter Julian: I thank my colleague for encouraging me. I would certainly take more time if I were to have the unanimous consent of the House. I could speak all day on this issue.
As members will recall, last night we were talking about the fact that with the Conservatives and transportation policy it seems to be consistently one step forward and two steps back. Essentially what we have had in this Parliament is the government putting forward pieces of legislation that either make very modest improvements to the transportation system and access to it, or actually gut the principles of safety and access to our transportation system.
I cited Bill , where essentially we have the government turning over safety management to the airline companies themselves, some of which will handle that very responsibly and others that clearly will not.
When we come back to the issue of Bill , we are seeing the same type of very lukewarm progress. It is fair to say that Bill purported to bring forward improvements to access transportation for shippers, to provide some improvements around clarity of airfares, and as well to make some significant progress on the issue of railway noise, which is something that afflicts many communities, mine included.
I spoke about the testimony we heard at the transport committee, particularly from two individuals, Mayor Wayne Wright of the city of New Westminster, and Brian Allen from the Westminster Quay, who is involved in the residents association there, who very clearly said that what we need to do is make substantial improvements so that communities have tools to deal with the issue of railway noise.
The Senate amendments before us water down the progress that was made in committee through NDP amendments and amendments from other parties to actually bolster Bill . Bill C-11 was weak and insipid to begin with. Through the transport committee process, we were able to make some notable improvements. I am very sad to see now that the Senate, the other chamber, is watering down the progress that was made. It is very clear to me that the NDP members in this corner of the House cannot support that watering down of progress that, although laudable, one might say was insufficient.
I would like to deal with these two issues of railway noise and clarity around airline advertising affairs, because those are the two key amendments that the Senate has watered down. In clause 27 there is an obligation of the Canadian Transportation Agency to make regulations requiring that the airlines include in the price all costs of providing the service. That is what the NDP and other parties working together were able to improve in Bill C-11. That was the bill that went to the Senate.
This is no small issue. This is an issue that Canadians who travel are intensely concerned with. I travel very frequently, twice a week, from Burnaby—New Westminster to Ottawa and back. I most often travel in economy class and talk with people about how they view the airlines and air travel in Canada.
Many Canadian consumers are concerned about the fact that when they see an advertised fare there are a lot of hidden charges. Most notably, Air Canada has attached a whole range of charges. Now we have to pay for meals and pillows. When we boarded the plane the other day, one person jokingly said that soon we are going to have to bring our own chairs to sit on in the plane.
What we have seen is a progression of user fees that Air Canada and other airlines have brought in to increase the price of the ticket. Because of all the hidden fees, what we are seeing is a huge discrepancy between what the advertised fare is and what consumers are actually paying. That is why consumer groups have been standing up for clarity on the advertising of airline fees.
Members of the Travellers' Protection Initiative appeared before the transport committee. They were very clear. The initiative, as far as the lead organizations are concerned, is composed of the Travel Industry Council of Ontario, the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies, and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre.
There is also Option consommateurs, a very well-respected organization in Quebec.
This protection initiative was supported by members of the Canadian Association of Airline Passengers, the Consumers' Association of Canada from Saskatchewan, Transport 2000, the Consumers Council of Canada, the Air Passengers Safety Group, the Manitoba Society of Seniors, the Ontario Society (Coalition) of Senior Citizens' Organizations, and Rural Dignity of Canada.
These are all very reputable groups. They were calling for clarity in airline advertising. That is what the transport committee endeavoured to do, even though I would not say the provisions made it all the way to that complete clarity that we are all seeking. What we had at the Senate level was the airlines then wading in and trying to water down the legislation by saying that it would be difficult for them to be honest, open and above board with the fees they are charging for airline tickets.
We in this corner of the House simply disagree, in the same way that we disagree with the price gouging we are seeing in the oil and gas sector and in the same way that we disagree with the whole range of consumer items where consumers are not protected by the Canadian federal government. We simply disagree that it is impossible to have clarity in advertising for airline fees, that the cost of the entire ticket somehow cannot be put forward. We simply disagree with that, which is why we are disappointed by the Senate bringing back these amendments that waters it down.
What essentially the Senate is saying is this: let us put it off to some uncertain date in the future and maybe some day in Canada consumers will actually know what the complete and total cost of their ticket is going to be when they purchase their airline ticket.
That is very clearly one area from the Senate that we simply cannot support. We want to see consumers protected. We want to see clarity and honesty in the whole issue of airline ticket costs. The Senate amendment is simply unacceptable and the House should reject it.
Another area that the Senate has amended is taking what was a higher bar around the issue of railway noise. We finally have a process, when Bill is adopted, for local communities such as the Westminster Quay area of New Westminster that are beset by excessive railway noise. We finally have a way by which those communities can fight back against the railways. They have tried dealing with the railways. Some of them have been good and some of them have been pretty rotten.
As a result of that, it continues to be a problem, with excessive railway noise in the early morning hours, excessive shunting and running of diesel engines all in an area where there is a wide variety of condominium and apartments within a few metres of the railway tracks.
Here is what the Senate did in regard to the requirement that the transport committee put into Bill to require railway companies to cause as little noise and vibration as possible and to set that bar fairly significantly high as far as what the requirements were of railway companies. The Senate simply imposed a standard of reasonableness.
Reasonableness is not a high standard. If the railway companies believe it is reasonable to shunt in the early morning hours because it is simply more profitable for them to do that, it is a defendable concept, but the concept that the transport committee put into the legislation was the concept of as little noise and vibration as possible. There is where there is a very clear disagreement between the two houses.
As little noise and vibration as possible would mean that railway companies would have to justify their shunting in the Westminster Quay area of New Westminster rather than shunting out in the Port Mann area where there are very few homes and where there is not that urban disruption of the environment. The running of diesel engines might be justified for a variety of reasons as being reasonable from the railway's point of view, but it does not mean that the railways are causing as little noise and vibration as possible.
What we have had is a step back. Even though I think it is fair to say that people in communities who are afflicted with this excessive level of railway noise are happy to see any movement forward, the Senate amendments water down an important bar that was set. That is why we will be rejecting this amendment as well. We hope that the Senate will simply agree that higher standards are the most important way to go as far as Canadians are concerned. This is not a small issue.
I am going to cite a community noise study that was done in the area of the member for . Daily average noise exposures at three monitoring sites near the railways in east Vancouver found that the 24 hour equivalent sound level was beyond the acceptable level of 55 decibels by an average of 10 to 15 decibels. In other words, the noise level was beyond the acceptable level in an urban environment. There is no doubt that in the port lands in east Vancouver the railway noise went far beyond those levels, by ten to 15 decibels, which is roughly twice as loud as the actual limit of 55 decibels that has been established by Health Canada and the CMHC.
It is important to note that the noise monitoring found that railway noise continued, to quote from the report, “largely unabated through the nighttime hours, 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.”. That is a problem in east Vancouver and I can tell members that it is a problem in New Westminster as well. We are seeing the shunting and the running of diesel engines right through the night.
At the transport committee, NDP members called for very strict limits as one of a whole series of amendments that we brought forward to improve the legislation. During the evening hours and overnight hours, we suggested that railways be restricted to the type of activities they could do in urban areas. Their shunting would have to take place in more rural or removed areas, away from urban areas, and they would be restricted in the type of high noise level that we are hearing now.
Those are our reasons, what I think are two powerful reasons. There is the issue of making sure that we have clarity, openness and accountability around airline fees and that this is brought in as quickly as possible, not set off for some future agenda. We want to make sure that there is a high level of requirement for the railway companies to make as little noise as possible, that they have to meet that requirement rather than what we have now, which is essentially no process at all. To say that we are subjecting it, as the Senate would have us do, to what is reasonable from a railway point of view, is simply not on.
While I have a few more minutes, I would like to talk a bit more about some of the other amendments to Bill that were brought forward by the NDP at the transport committee. It is important to raise those issues with respect to what could have been in the bill and what is not.
One of the things in Bill that both the governing party and the Liberal Party brought forward was that members of the Canadian Transportation Agency must come from the national capital region. In fact, there now is a requirement in the legislation that members of the Canadian Transportation Agency, who have an important role to play as mediators in many aspects of this legislation, have to come from the national capital region. What the NDP submitted as an amendment was that each of the regions of Canada, for example, Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario, the Prairies and British Columbia, be represented because of the difference in geography and the difference in transportation requirements from coast to coast to coast.
We think it is extremely important that the regions be represented. People from Ottawa should not be making decisions about transportation policy or mediation in British Columbia. Simply put, British Columbia has different and often very rigorous transportation requirements. It does not make sense, then, to have these members sit in Ottawa. It is important to note that the amendment was refused and that all of the members of the Canadian Transportation Agency have to live in Ottawa. That is unfortunate.
I spelled out why we are rejecting the Senate amendments and we certainly hope that members from all four corners of the House will join with us, so that we can have essentially a better Bill that goes back to the Senate once we have rejected their amendments.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois about the amendments to Bill , which the Senate has sent back to us. The Senate did not choose to make just any amendment to the bill. I would like all my colleagues—particularly the Conservatives and Liberals—to understand how they are destroying the delicate balance between rail operations and the peace and quiet of people living near marshalling yards or rail lines.
Our country is experiencing major economic development. Rail is growing by leaps and bounds, something some companies but especially the government had not predicted. The government is investing a great deal of money in moving freight, which arrives in every port in Canada and is transported across the country. Rail transportation has therefore grown. This is good news for the railways, and we take pride in it.
But when trains get longer and come more frequently, problems are inevitable. Today, because of environmental concerns, noise pollution must be considered. Countries all over the world have adopted health standards related to noise pollution, and it is time the railways complied with these internationally recognized standards.
This bill was introduced in order to bring the industry in line. Why? Because it did not discipline itself. It turned a deaf ear when people formed associations and filed complaints. It even won in court against Transport Canada. For example, the Canadian Transportation Commission lost its case when the court ruled that it could not intervene in these matters.
This bill had two objectives: to give power to the Canadian Transportation Commission and to set out how the Commission could use that power in dealing with pollution, specifically noise pollution.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Mario Laframboise: Speaking of noise, I can hardly hear myself talk because of my colleagues opposite.
That was the benefit of this bill. We discussed it in committee and weighed the pros and cons. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities—which you support, Mr. Speaker, as the head of this House—heard both sides, the railways and the citizens' groups.
In Quebec, these are not minor problems. We could talk about marshalling yards such as the Moreau yard in Hochelaga, Joffre in Charny—now in the city of Lévis, in the riding of Lévis—Bellechasse—, Farnham in Brome—Missisquoi, and Pointe-Saint-Charles in Jeanne-Le Ber. We are familiar with all the problems and the legal proceedings in Outremont and the rail transportation problems in Quebec City and Montmagny. All these people affected by the noise came to tell us about their failed discussions with the railway companies, which were not interested in talking to them. They knew very well that no legislation could force them to deal with the noise pollution.
That is why, after discussions among all the parties, the committee was able to table a unanimous report on Bill . Amendments were proposed unanimously and no one opposed the bill as tabled and discussed in committee.
I will read section 95.1 of the bill adopted unanimously by the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities when it was studied clause by clause. It is worthwhile reading so that those listening will fully understand.
Section 95.1 reads as follows:
|| 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;
||(b) its operational require2ments;
||(c) the area where the construction or operation takes place; and
||(d) the potential impact on persons residing in properties adjacent to the railway.
We all thought it struck a good balance to take into account both the operational requirements of the company and the potential impact on persons residing in properties adjacent to the railway, and we did so by adding, “as little noise and vibration as possible”. All parties were unanimous on this.
Imagine that Bill goes back to the Senate. It decides to give in to pressure from the industry. That is clear because I have the list of witnesses who were heard in the Senate committee. Not a single citizens' group was heard during this discussion. The Senate heard from the , Transport Canada, the Forest Products Association of Canada, the Western Grain Elevator Association, the Western Canadian Shippers' Coalition, the Railway Association of Canada, and the Canadian National Railway Company. Not a single group of citizens experiencing problems with noise was heard from.
We did not come up with the words, “as little noise as possible”. These terms were used in Bill tabled by the Liberals in the last Parliament. We used the terms, “must cause as little noise as possible” and we added the word “vibration” because it has come to that. As I was saying, because of the length of the trains, we have to deal with the noise and vibration caused by railway transportation. But we opted for “as little noise as possible”, which was proposed by the Liberals in the last Parliament.
Today, in the Senate, the Liberal majority decided to change that. It decided to hear from witnesses, but not from citizens groups. It gave in to pressure from lobbyists and decided to table the amendments we are discussing today in this House and which the Bloc Québécois will vote against.
Worse yet, and this is where I have a problem understanding the Conservatives, the said, when he appeared before the Senate committee:
|| Today, however, I would like to discuss the many benefits of Bill C-11. The Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities made a number of improvements to Bill C-11 during committee review, following almost two months of meetings last fall with witnesses from across the country. I want to thank members of that committee for their diligent work. We now have a very solid piece of legislation that I hope this committee can deal with expeditiously.
He went on:
|| The bill will require the railway to cause as little noise and vibrations as possible when constructing or operating a railway, taking into consideration the requirements of railway operations, the interests of affected communities and the potential impact on adjacent residents. As well, the Agency would be given authority to resolve noise complaints if a voluntary settlement cannot be reached between parties. This is a long-awaited remedy that we believe will balance the needs of communities with the need for continued rail operations to move ever increasing trade volumes.
In addition, Senator Dawson, one of the people who orchestrated the amendments for the Liberal majority in the Senate, said himself in the Senate:
|| —the Department of Transport tells us that it can live with the text as it stands. The department is your partner. The minister could have decided to pay us a visit here in the Senate to tell us that he found the amendment tabled in the House of Commons to be unreasonable—let’s not mince words—and to ask us to change it. Instead, he came here and told us that he could live with the bill in its present form.
That is why I cannot understand the Conservatives' position today. The minister could live with the bill. The definition came from the old Bill introduced by the Liberals. The Conservatives did not see what the Liberal majority in the Senate was doing or what all the Liberals in both houses were doing, unbeknownst to the entire House of Commons.
That is the big problem for me. Today the Conservative Party is supporting the amendments that were submitted by the Liberal majority in the Senate. I am going to read the text that I read a while ago to my NDP colleague. It is worth it because, after all, there are Conservative senators in the Senate, too. It is interesting to see how their own Conservative senators operate.
I am going to return to the statement by Senator Hugh Segal, who said, “I point out with great respect that Senator Munson and Senator Dawson [these are two Liberal senators], who played such a constructive role, have undertaken that when this chamber, in due consideration, ships this bill, should it decide to do so, back to the other place, they will consult broadly with their colleagues in that other place [here he is speaking of the Liberal MPs in the House of Commons] so that the bill comes back quickly”.
So I understand the Conservative senator, when he says that the Liberals, are proposing amendments, and asks whether they think that will work. The Liberals then confirm to Conservative Senator Segal that, indeed, when it happens, they will turn around and be in favour of the amendments. However, the Conservative senator never says that he consulted the Conservative members and the minister. He does not say it. He does his work nicely.
Of course Senator Segal adds, “They have further undertaken on the record that should the other place dither and not approve it--“that is, if we in the House of Commons decided not to approve it”--they will move quickly to act with this engaged, non-partisan administration--“speaking of the Senate”--to pass the bill quickly through this chamber”.
Throughout the text, Senator Segal says that the Conservatives want to advance the bill, that they are non-partisan and have only heard the railway companies. They are in favour of what is proposed by the Liberals, who say they have reached an agreement with their colleagues in the House of Commons. Thus the bill will come back to this House and everything will be settled. Still, Senator Segal had a moment of lucidity. At least he took the time to ask himself what the Liberals would do if ever the bill were not passed by the House of Commons? This is not a problem: they will pass it as amended by the House of Commons. This is what the text of the Debates of the Senate, Issue 101, of May 30, 2007, tells us.
I do not understand the Conservatives who are voting today in favour of the amendment by the Senate, knowing very well that if they held the line and that if they insisted at any rate on what had been adopted in committee, we would vote against the Senate amendments and the Senate would adopt it because there is already an agreement between the Conservative senators and the Liberals. If we blow hot and cold and are not in favour they will quickly adopt it.
Why not do it as early as possible today? Let us send it back to them and tomorrow they will return it to us. In that way we would have respected the wishes of the public and not just the interests of business.
I will not stop there. The representatives of the City of Quebec and the City of Lévis appeared before the committee. The member for , in the Quebec City area, even had his picture taken with all those people and the photo was published in the local weekly newspapers. He was very pleased. The member for was not present because he was no longer a member of the committee but when the witnesses appeared before the committee he was in favour. The definition that was contained in Bill is the definition advocated by the City of Lévis. Yet, this evening or at some other time, the member for will vote in favour of the Senate amendments, which are contrary to the position put forward by the City of Lévis.
Conservative colleagues, the public have had enough of this and they want it settled. The balance that we achieved and that was defended by the , is a good balance, and he said it well, because the demands of the public were much greater and a great deal more critical about the railways than what ended up in this bill.
That balance is found in the definition “as little noise and vibration as possible” and the condition relating to the potential impact on persons residing adjacent to the railway. It is simple; it is to balance the power of the railway companies, which for business reasons have no interest in the problems of noise pollution and do not care.
As I said from the start, we can no longer ignore this noise pollution. The pubic are entitled to have their problems dealt with in an intelligent way and to come back to the definition of the word “reasonable,” a definition that was in the previous legislation and about which there was much less than unanimous agreement.
Speaking of the witnesses, the residents of Charny, which is now part of the City of Lévis, formed committees and they studied the court decisions, including the Oakville decision.
They are very much on top of this issue. They have organized fundraisers and were ready to go to court over the noise problem. There really is a problem with noise pollution. They are not doing this for the fun of it and do not spend their time in court because they have nothing else to do. When they decide to institute legal proceedings, it is because all the discussions with the railways have gone no where. Marshalling yards are hell.
There is a company now that converts old locomotives using truck engines that can be turned off at night. The managers of this company have been trying to meet with CN management, but CN does not want to see them. It does not want to meet with them. It would rather keep its old locomotives in the marshalling yards. Railway cars obviously have to be moved around for maintenance and repairs. Engines are left running night and day. That is how it is done in the winter because if a diesel engine is turned off, it cannot be restarted. That is the reality. They do not want to modernize, do not want to listen, and do not want to know anything about new technologies. What interests them are the profits they pay to their shareholders every three months. They do not give a damn about anything else.
For once we would have a bill that would help citizens achieve a balance because that is what the Transportation Agency is supposed to do. If the company and the people filing complaints cannot agree, the Transportation Agency has the power to impose directives. What directives? They would provide some oversight and say that the railways have to cause as little noise and vibration as possible and consider the possible impact on people residing close to the railway, while at the same time continuing to operate and construct railways in the places where they are. There already were some guidelines that enabled them to say that certain things had to be done, while at the same time they had to take into account the fact that they were located near particular neighbourhoods. The legislation already gave them the ability to say that their facilities were in certain locations and they had certain operational needs. The only balancing required was that they had to take into account the impact on people living in adjacent locations and cause as little noise and vibration as possible.
As the Minister said when he appeared before the Senate, it was a good balance. I agree with that. My problem is that the Conservative members—particularly those from Quebec—are still kowtowing to the railway lobby. Probably the members from the West are pressuring the Quebec members. We will not hear from them today: they are not making speeches. They will listen obediently to what the parliamentary secretary tells them when he tries to make them understand that nothing can be done. If it goes back to the Senate, it will take time, because if the Senators do not agree, the Senate can decide to send the bill back here, and we want it to pass quickly.
I will read what Senator Segal said again, since the parliamentary secretary has just arrived. I quote again what he said about his colleagues, Senators Dawson and Munson.
|| They have further undertaken on the record that should the other place [that is us] dither and not approve it, they will move quickly to act with this engaged, non-partisan administration [the Senate] to pass the bill quickly through this chamber.
I reiterate to my Conservative colleagues that they should not be afraid to stand up for their constituents' interests, once and for all. I say to the members from Quebec—the member for , the members for the Quebec City region, and their minister—not to be afraid to stand up for their constituents. Just once, let them rise in this House to stand up for the only defensible tool, the one that was even defended by the before the Senate committee. He said that it was a good balance. Let them stand up and defend the interests of their constituents. Let them stop being doormats for the members from the West. Let them stand up and stand tall. Let them defend the interests of their fellow citizens by saying no to the Senate and to the amendments before us today. And let the Senate make its decision again. That is what it says in the Senate report, in the statement by Senator Hugh Segal, that they already have an agreement: if we send the bill back and do not accept the amendments, they will pass Bill as it stood when it was unanimously agreed to in committee.
What I am asking the Conservative members from Quebec to do is to stand up, to defend the interests of their constituents and to do what the Bloc members, who were elected solely to defend the interests of the public and not for their personal careers, are doing. That is what we will see at the end of the day.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to the Senate amendment concerning Bill . I do not think I can drum up as much steam as the member for did. That was quite the performance. I agree with everything he said. I certainly agree with the concerns my colleague from the Bloc outlined about this amendment.
For me, my riding and the communities that I represent in east Vancouver, this issue goes back to the day that I was elected. In fact, as I am sure the Speaker will remember, even a former member of Parliament for Vancouver East, Margaret Mitchell, a great member of Parliament who represented east Vancouver in the House, she herself dealt with the issue of excessive train noise, vibration and disruption for residents in the Burrardview and Wall Street areas of east Vancouver. This is an issue that goes way back.
Over the 10 years that I have been here I have met with local residents on numerous occasions to respond to their very legitimate concerns. I have attended community meetings. I have met with railway officials in Ottawa and Vancouver to put forward those concerns and demand that there be a response not only from the railway company but also from the government.
I actually rode the tracks. I forget the name of that little vehicle that goes up and down the tracks, but I rode on that to see firsthand what was going on in the marshalling yards that was causing so many problems. We have approached it from a health point of view and have laid complaints with the medical health officer in Vancouver. We have pursued legal options. I have worked with local residents and the saga goes on and on.
As recently as April of 2007 I wrote to the Railway Safety Act Review Advisory Panel pointing out that I regularly receive letters, e-mails, faxes, phone calls and visits from local residents, all of whom vociferously protest against prolonged and excessive train noise. They feel they are under constant siege from the noise by trains and they have not been able to find any recourse. All the complaints are remarkably similar and focus on noise in the early hours of the morning from whistles and horns, idling, shunting, et cetera. That was just in April.
Before that, in July 2006 I wrote to the then minister of transport with the same issues, concerns and complaints. I actually received a reply from the minister at that time. Lo and behold, the minister of transport said, “You may be interested to note that , which will enable the Canadian Transportation Agency to address issues such as noise levels, received first reading in Parliament in May 2006”. We finally have a bill that is going to address these long-standing systemic concerns from local residents.
Prior to that, in June 2005, I wrote to the Canadian Pacific Railway articulating the concerns that I had heard. In 2003 I wrote to the then minister of transport, who basically took no action. In 2002 I wrote to the minister of transport, as I had in 2000. This is just a sampling of letters that I have written.
It is very illuminating to hear the debate on this bill after the various readings it has gone through and hear members, even at this stage of the bill, coming forward with a sense of frustration that this bill still does not adequately respond to the legitimate concerns of local residents. That is coming from across the political spectrum. We have heard members from the Bloc today articulate very well the ongoing nature of these concerns.
In my own community, it has been the outstanding vigilance, neighbourhood spirit and activism at the local level that has kept this issue on the political agenda. It has been the work of local residents such as the member for Vancouver--Hastings in the B.C. legislative assembly, Shane Simpson. When he was a resident activist before he was elected, he was very active with the Burrardview residents association in pressing this issue. There are people like Barbara Fousek, who is now with the Burrardview residents association, who have never given up and have always addressed the concerns of local residents.
To be frank, people have tried to work within the system. They have tried to use processes and avenues they believed were available to them. Whether it has been the City of Vancouver with the whistleblowing, whether it has been the railway company itself, whether it has ben the federal government, people have used all of these avenues to the absolute fullest.
I would like to quote from a few of the e-mails and letters that I have received, for example, from Robert who has focused on a particular engine. People actually identify the number of the engine that is causing the problem while it might be idling in the marshalling yards at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. disrupting people's sleep when they have to go to work the next day.
Bonnie wrote at great length to the transportation committee. She pointed out that this issue in east Vancouver goes back to 1991 with the closure of the rail yard in Vancouver's Coal Harbour. There were operational changes that increased the length and the weight of trains. This has had a significant local impact. She points out that the CPR began the marshalling of trains below Wall Street in the Burrardview neighbourhood. The operational change was made without any public consultation or consideration of the impact that the change would have on local residents. This change has had a drastic effect on neighbourhoods and has increased noise and vibration to industrial levels.
In fact, the residents went so far as to ensure that a study was done of the noise levels. Our party's transport critic, the member for , in his speech quoted briefly from that study dated December 2005, entitled, “East Vancouver Portlands Community Noise Study”. As he pointed out, what was found was excessive noise levels that were far beyond anything that could be considered reasonable or standard for people living in a high density residential area.
I have other letters, for example, one from the Pacific Terraces strata council, which states:
|| Also, the drone of trains idling have often kept me from falling asleep. On occasion, I have incurred ear damage, with severe symptoms lasting for days. Again, I see no reason why trains need to idle for hours in areas where one can only surmise that many people are being denied their natural right to respect, peace and tranquility.
|| This should not be seen as just an issue of inconvenience, but one of health and mental well being. It is my opinion that the disrespect railway yards seem to show neighbourhoods crosses the line of abuse. I hope this situation can be resolved soon.
In an email, Finn points out:
|| The Alberta wheat pool is close to our house and we are subjected to, among other things, shunting of trains which occurs at all hours of the night causing extreme noise levels, Freight trains travelling from West to East working so hard and travelling so fast that the vibrations shake our whole house and wake anyone who may be sleeping.
I do not want to use the word “complaints” when referring to these issues, because that would imply that people are just complaining. These are very severe impacts on people's quality of life. The documentation that I have on these issues is endless.
I want to get back to the bill. Before us today is a Senate amendment and I want to retrace the steps of where this amendment came from.
I want to thank the NDP transport critic, the member for , for his very strong work in bringing local residents to the committee so that they could be heard and for receiving the issues that people have pressed.
The NDP member brought forward amendments to this bill. We supported the bill in principle. We said that maybe there finally could be some resolution. The member brought forward amendments at the committee that would have, for example, prohibited trains from performing certain activities such as shunting in high density residential areas between the hours of 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Those amendments were shot down in committee, regrettably, because they did not have the support of other members. In fact, we ended up with a compromise proposal from the government side which said that at least there could be as little noise and vibration as possible.
We went along with that. We wanted to get through as much as we could in order to respond to people's concerns. We agreed finally to that amendment. The NDP amendment, which I think was far superior, was lost.
Where are we now? The bill was approved by the House. It went to the Senate. Now there is a Senate amendment that is watering down the government amendment which watered down the NDP amendment. The 10th report of Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications states:
|| Finally, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communications amended clause 29 of Bill C-11 to require railway companies to cause “as little noise and vibration as possible”....Canadian railway companies believed that the new standard could present a significant threat to their economic viability as there is no jurisprudence on its interpretation. As such, the railway companies recommended that the standard of “reasonableness” be restored to the provision.
That is exactly what the other place did. It went ahead, put forward its own amendment in the unelected Senate, which is what we are now debating in the House.
That is why we in the NDP feel we have to take a stand, that we have to say that this is unacceptable on two grounds. One is the amendment from the Senate is not reasonable and is actually watering down a provision so much that it will have very little effect which to us is really undermining the value and the intent of what the bill was intended to do in the first place. The bill was to provide real relief to local residents who have been suffering for years. On those grounds alone we feel we cannot support the Senate amendment.
In addition, as has been pointed out by the and other members of the House, it seems to us completely unacceptable that we are now debating an amendment from the Senate that is based on accommodating what the railway companies consider to be reasonable from a place that has no accountability to those local residents. Here we are with this amendment that is not really going to respond in any fashion to the very legitimate concerns that I have documented exist in my own community and we know exist right across the country. I find it very offensive that we are now having to respond to this amendment.
On those two grounds we are saying today that we want to reject that amendment. We believe that this should go back and that the government should be very clear that this is an unacceptable practice. We have seen it on other occasions when the government has taken issue with the Senate and has said that what the Senate has done is not legitimate and so on, but on this issue the government seems to be quite willing to go along with it.
I wanted to speak in the debate today just to lay out what this has meant for the thousands of people in my community who are still suffering from the impacts of excessive train noise. I want to make one thing clear. They are local residents who are well aware that they live adjacent to a working port. The history of east Vancouver is built on port activity and train activity. We understand that. It is part of our history. It is part of the history of our community. There are many people who work at the port and in the rail yards who live in east Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. We understand the importance of the economic activity of our rail operations and the port generally.
However, there is a significant issue about the interface and the conflict that can arise. What I find problematic is that often those issues are presented as somehow being mutually exclusive, that we have to say that everything the port or the railway company wants for their economic viability we have to go for or somehow we are on the side of the residents.
I believe, and I think many members in this House believe, that our job is to ensure that there is a balance between those things, that they are not mutually exclusive, that we can protect the economic viability of the port of Vancouver and the rail operations. Our job is also to ensure that we address the concerns that residents have in a meaningful way.
Some residents have lived in that neighbourhood for three, four, five decades and some have moved in more recently. Some of the letters I get are from recent residents. I always ask them if they were aware that they were moving into an area next to the port, and they always tell me they were. In principle, that is not the issue.
People are very respectful of those who work in the port and those who work on the rail operations. There is a legitimate case here about the excessive noise. People were not consulted when operational changes were made 15 years ago. I find that railway officials listen to us, but they really feel that they have no mandate and do not have to respond to these concerns. I have had that experience myself, which points out why this legislation is so needed.
Overall, we support Bill . We want to see it go through. The bill has gone through the House, but I am very disappointed and frustrated that it has now come back to us with this Senate amendment that will undo the very premise on which it was advanced by the government. I am sure the House is going to hear the same thing from other members today.
I hope that we can convince enough members of this House to send a strong message back to the Senate saying that this is not acceptable. We have to tell the Senate that we have to do a better job and that we are not prepared to water the bill down and weaken the already weak provisions to protect those local quality of life concerns. That is what we in the NDP hope will happen today. We believe that we have one last shot at this.
I thank the members of the transport committee who worked very diligently on this bill. I especially thank our transportation critic, the member for , who has pressed this issue very well and has worked hard to get the best possible arrangement.
Now we have to respond to the other place that has no accountability to those local residents. Let us do the right thing and stand up for their quality of life. Let us make sure that the bill is not undermined and weakened.
I will not begin my presentation by saying that I am pleased to rise and speak today because today I do not feel any pleasure, but rather shame, before the amendments that have come to us from the Senate. These amendments defeat the significant amendments that were made to Bill and passed unanimously in committee.
I am ashamed because the Senate did not do its job properly. It only met with railway companies, which told it all about their dissatisfaction with the bill. The Senate report even quotes their arguments. We read there that the Canadian railway companies claimed that a new standard could have considerable economic consequences in the absence of a standard based on the reasonableness of noise.
So the companies played the economic argument, but we must not lose sight of the purpose of the bill, which was not to try and make railway companies as profitable as possible. That would have been studied by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.
Rather the bill was designed to deal with numerous complaints from our citizens who live close to railways. These citizens are penalized by the operations of these companies, which as a rule do not listen to the citizens’ complaints. If you are an MP, you represent all your fellow citizens. MPs contribute by developing bills in our fine parliamentary system in order to improve the living conditions of their fellow citizens.
The members of the Senate said themselves they held five meetings to study this bill, which is so important to us. I sit on the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. We held 15 sessions just to meet with witnesses. Of these 15, some 10 were an opportunity to meet with citizens, groups of citizens and representatives of cities who told us about the problems they have been experiencing for a very long time. Representatives of the department and railway companies also shared their comments with us on the bill, and answered our questions.
In addition to the 15 sessions we had with witnesses, we held six sessions specifically to do a clause-by-clause study. After meeting with all the witnesses, each of the parties studied the problem and proposed amendments with a view to improving the bill. The committee was unanimous in passing the amendments adopted at third reading.
I am relatively new as an MP and I was pleased to see that we could draft a useful bill that would improve life for my constituents. I have talked about this bill in my riding to illustrate my work as an MP. I do not know how I am going to explain to my constituents the situation we are in right now, but depending on the result of the vote on this bill, I will have to say a few words about those who are undoing the democratic work that we undertook.
It is important to point out, as my colleague from said earlier, that members of the Senate are saying that if their amendments are not accepted by the House, they could nonetheless pass the bill quickly.
The fact that the government party seems to want to give in so easily and destroy everything that was done in committee and in drafting the bill, adds to the frustration and shame I feel about the way the Senate operates. The Conservatives seem to be saying that this will all work out.
This eliminates any possibility of making these improvements. The official opposition party seems to want to do the same thing, since it has the majority in the Senate and was lobbied by the railway companies.
We are in an incredible situation where organized pressure groups, companies that have lobbyists, can interfere with a major bill to improve living conditions, by approaching members of the Senate to influence them during specific meetings and make them change their minds.
I find this hard to swallow, especially since, as the Bloc knows, the very existence of the Senate has been criticized. These are people who were not elected and we do not know to whom they are accountable. The way in which we are currently receiving the report shows they are not improving matters or the impression we have of them. In my opinion, they did not conduct a defined study that allows us to achieve the objectives of the bill.
I find this surprising, especially as the purpose of the amendments we proposed to the provision on noise was to respond to all the testimony we had heard. These amendments were not made out of the blue. We conducted a long review, provision by provision, because we had received various proposals from different parties. We reached a consensus, even though we had been asked to show even greater determination on the noise issue. We said, therefore, that the companies have to cause as little noise and vibration as possible. We opted for this formulation rather than prohibiting any unreasonable noise. Who can say what is reasonable or not and on what basis would it be judged? We wanted every possible solution attempted, therefore, in an effort to resolve this problem.
We know that there can be various different ways of resolving the noise problem, especially in marshalling yards. There are the hours of operation, but also the machinery, the engines, and better locomotives that make less noise when they operate.
We also required the railway companies to take into consideration the possible impact on people residing close to the railway. Initially, the bill did not mention these people. It just said that the operational and construction needs of railways had to be met. When we received a number of representations on the impact of the noise on local people, we decided to add something in order to achieve this objective and make the companies ultimately responsible for the impact on the local population and not just for the physical operation of their equipment.
The involvement of the Conservative members from Quebec could be seen most clearly in the riding of Lévis—Bellechasse where there is also a very large marshalling yard. The Conservative member for was very pleased to meet with the sector president in his region who came to voice his complaints.
Since the Senate members did not even make the effort to meet with these people, I would like to quote an excerpt from the testimony of Mr. Jean-Pierre Bazinet, president of the Chute-de-la-Chaudière sector in Lévis. If people take the time to re-read the discussions, they will see what the concerns of the City of Lévis were.
|| As part of its activities, Canadian National operates a switching yard within the boundaries of Charny and Saint-Jean-Chrysostome. Given the elevated noise levels generated by switching operations conducted by Canadian National, numerous complaints have been laid by residents of the three former neighbourhoods that existed prior to the merger in 2000, as well as by residents of the other neighbourhoods that I mentioned earlier.
|| These residents believe that the noise pollution caused by CN's operations, particularly in the evening and at night, is affecting their health and impedes their peaceful enjoyment of their property. This situation came about in 1998—and that date is important. Previously, the switching yard and the residents lived in harmony. The new situation coincided with the privatization of the company, which streamlined its operations not only in Quebec, but throughout Canada.
|| In that respect, the problems experienced by the residents of Charny are similar to those encountered in other cities in Canada. The preceding testimonies are compelling.
|| When CN failed to take action, a large number of affected residents signed a petition that was presented to the council of the former City of Charny in 2000. The municipality also received letters from home owners describing the situation as unacceptable and intolerable.
|| In 2001, the Public Health Department of the Chaudière-Appalaches Health and Social Services Board conducted an analysis of the situation and produced a report entitled “Assessment of the public health risk associated with environmental noise produced by operations at CN's Joffre switching yard in Charny”. The study concludes, and I quote:
|| “Based on the available noise measurements, the literature review and the specific context, we find that the environmental noise to which many of the people living in the residential area adjacent to CN's Joffre switching yard are exposed adversely affects their quality of life and potentially their health. Such noise levels are therefore a nuisance to the peace, comfort and well-being of the residents near the Joffre switching yard in Charny.
|| From a public health standpoint, these noise levels are likely to have an adverse affect on health by disturbing sleep, which in turn has a number of side effects.
|| These noise levels are in our view incompatible with residential zoning unless special measures are taken to reduce the noise”.
This is part of what Mr. Bazinet, from Lévis, said in his testimony. It was very important and was much appreciated by the Conservative member in that riding. However, he has not been seen at all during the current debate period. I think that he is not happy with his party's position, or he is not proud of what the parliamentary secretary said, about how the proposed amendments were satisfactory and it would still be a good bill.
I call on all the Conservative members, especially those from Quebec, to take a stand for once and vote in favour of this bill, which offers a solution to the noise problem. We heard from at least five or six citizens' groups from Lévis, whom I mentioned, and also from Quebec City. Quebec City and Lévis are major areas and the noise problem is causing many problems for people. There are certainly Liberal members who are also concerned about this problem in their ridings. I think it is important to show that a realistic bill, unanimously agreed upon by the parties in parliamentary committee, can move forward, and to not show the public that despite what we have been discussing for weeks and months in the House, and despite our best efforts, a few senators can decide what is best for the public. Senators do not have to answer to the people afterwards.
I invite everyone who is even remotely aware of the importance of democracy to vote against these amendments. The Senate must recognize that the House of Commons stands firm, that it has examined the bill, and especially, that it has taken into account the public's arguments in order to improve the situation.
Mr. Speaker, at present we have before us an amended bill that flies in the face of current trends and that truly does not make sense. Throughout the world, there are now more and more trains, travelling faster and faster and governed by more and more regulations imposed by governments with regard to noise, safety and quality of railway traffic.
In this House, we are moving in the opposite direction. We are trying to pass a bill—a modest one at that—and we are being blocked by a lobby of large railway companies. I emphasize that point because, in my riding, a small railway line known as Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, seemed prepared to make changes and to cooperate when I met with it about two weeks ago to discuss this matter. The large companies, not the small ones, wanted these changes.
It is unacceptable for the big companies to demand that they be subject to absolutely no instructions or constraints, although they are subject to those things when they arrive in the United States, and they accept them and deal with it. As you know, in the United States, noise and pollution regulations are much stricter than in Canada. In fact, the Canadian companies have to have locomotives that are completely adapted to meet the requirements of the American standards in order to cross the border. On the other hand, we have old, noisy and polluting locomotives travelling Canada's east-west corridor. It is hard to understand why this lobby is looking at history in its rearview mirror.
Myself, I was very proud to see this bill moving forward. In the riding where I live, the Farnham switching yard, located in the town of Farnham, is getting bigger and bigger. The fact is that this yard has been causing problems, not for two or three years, but for decades. It is an old switching yard, and the people who live right nearby are the ones enduring the growing noise. At one time, rail transportation was very seldom used, and people found it acceptable. Now, however, with business booming and plans for passenger trains to pass through Farnham—and we are working on this—people have to expect that the noise and vibration will be reduced.
And so when I saw that the bill was moving ahead and was going to pass, following the normal procedure, I could not have imagined that an unelected body like the Senate would tell us that we had to do what the train lobby said and backtrack. Frankly, this could not have been expected.
I therefore went out to meet with the public, and there were only two topics raised, one of which was trains. The residents of Farnham and the mayor and city councillors were invited, and I explained the bill to them. I read them sections 95.1 and 95.2, and they were overjoyed. At first, people in the room were saying that the government would never pass a law to limit noise, because there had never been one. As well, in the last Parliament, the Liberal member who was elected in my riding had told them that his government was not really in favour of proposing measures to reduce noise, and he ignored them and did not want to help them.
I, on the contrary, thought that it was entirely reasonable for rules to be made by the government about how the companies must behave, like good citizens, toward the public which they serve. This is not simply a matter of them saying we will make our profits and then leave.
I met with the public and I read them the sections and they were very happy. They were persuaded that at last there would be changes. Imagine, now, how it will be when they learn that the bill has been amended by the Senate, under pressure from lobbyists.
Who is going to explain to them that the bill was not passed as it was proposed by the committee and as it was passed in this House? Will it be the Conservative members, who would in fact love to take my place? Will they be the ones who will come and explain it to the residents of the town of Farnham? I would suggest that they come in a well armoured car, because they might get a bad reception. Will it be the senators? No, because we know that senators never leave home. They are not accountable, in any riding. So they will not be coming to explain it.
I will personally have to explain the situation to them. Imagine the situation I will be in when I go to tell people: “The Liberals did not want it and the Liberal senators proposed some amendments”. To cap it all, I will have to tell them that Bill C-11 was a government bill but the government members voted to destroy it. Frankly, it is the height of ridiculousness. They say that in politics, six months is a long time but they can count on me to remind them of these events in the next election and they will remember it. The people of Farnham will be very happy to vote for a candidate who wants to reduce vibrations.
Earlier, I raised a point about vibrations and, as it happens, in Farnham, that is a very important factor because of the clay soil. If there are vibrations, the sound of the vibration can be heard very far away, as is the case at Farnham.
So, the matter of vibrations was vital. It was not just a matter of noise but also of vibrations. This means that a company must ensure that the trains reduce speed when they are in the marshalling yard, that shock dampers are installed on the rails and that there is a layer under the rails to absorb vibration. This is the case all over the world, except here. We do not understand why.
We know about the technology, but we do not apply it. Thus, at some point, faced with a modest bill, someone came forward and said, “No, that is going to upset my routine and cost me money. Let us leave things as they are”. That is a complete anachronism.
As I have said, the railway industry is now moving towards faster and safer trains, and much longer trains. Moreover, the Americans who send trainloads of merchandise to Canada, and who receive trainloads as well, are becoming more demanding about how those shipments are handled in Canada because they do not want any accidents and they do not want any complaints either.
It is only the lobby here in Canada that is holding us back. If we had American-style lobbying with American standards, everything would be satisfactory for our fellow citizens. We are here to act for our constituents.
I do not understand how we are supposed to say to the municipalities that it was in the bill but it was taken out. I read as follows: “The Agency must consult with interested parties, including municipal governments, before issuing any guidelines.”
That is what I did in my riding. I consulted the various municipalities and they totally agreed and were happy finally to have some rules imposed. The rules were not very hard to comply with, but at least there would be some. Now there will not be any at all and we will be back to square one. What is reasonable and what is unreasonable is not very specific. When this bill arrived, I suggested that there should be a standard for decibels, which represent the loudness of the sound at a certain distance. If we had done that, things would be very clear. But we did not. All we said was that the noise would be reduced, as appeared in the wording. We said as well that the noise adjacent to the railway could be harmful to people.
Now they are going further and withdrawing this proposal. It defies understanding. Why? To please a few railway companies, but not even all of them. It is important to know that not even all the companies wanted this, just a couple. They must have managed to lobby the current government very quickly to get it to change its mind. It used to be in agreement. It changed its mind at the last minute and is dropping the amendments, which would have been really destructive for the future of trains.
I want to tell the House about Farnham in my riding. Other hon. members have spoken about various marshalling yards, but in my riding there will be trains to other places as well: to Bromont, to Magog and maybe to Sherbrooke. We will be able to have trains to these places because the tracks are there, but they are hardly ever used. Some companies are interested in using them for passenger trains, and they will be, if people accept them. People will only accept them, though, if they make less noise. If is perfectly obvious that if there is noise pollution, if there are vibrations and other kinds of incessant pollution, people will not be interested. They are willing to travel by train, but they do not want the trains to upset their lives. There are already people living close to the tracks.
When people go to Japan, France, Italy or the Scandinavian countries, they see how quiet trains can be, even freight trains. They are made up in marshalling yards at low speeds, with much more flexible, less noisy couplings.
We are not asking for something that does not exist. We are just asking for something that exists everywhere but in Canada. Why take a step backward? This is not 1890, when people had to put up with steam trains. Now, we have technology, so why not use it? This was a long-term solution, not something that would last two or three months. It was a tailor-made solution that would have produced an acceptable sound level. Once it became part of rail culture, it would have lasted a very long time. But no, we are going back to the way things were before and changing absolutely nothing about the archaic, accepted technique that dates from a time when train use was dropping dramatically. Today, rail transportation is enjoying a resurgence.
We should have responded to this recovery of the rail sector by embracing new techniques. The government will have Bill on its conscience for a very long time, especially since Bill was never adopted.
This time, it could have been adopted, but they will have it on their conscience and bear the responsibility for it.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak about an important bill, Bill , and the amendments that have been put forth to it.
Two amendments from the Senate are causing considerable problems, and I hope to contribute to derailing those amendments because they go against consumer interest groups.
One Senate amendment relates to airline industry accountability and information that would be provided on an airline ticket purchased by a consumer.
The other Senate amendment waters down the rights of residents who live adjacent to railroad properties and the ability of them to interact with some fairness with the rail operators and have them provide some accountability when it comes to their operations, particularly with respect to noise and vibrations. These problems are persistent across the country.
I want to speak about the railroad operations first. I will provide a couple of examples as to why it is so important that the amendments be defeated and how they are counter to the needs and wishes of people.
I cannot understand the Senate doing this, unless it does feel it is accountable to ordinary Canadians and their ability to enjoy of their residences next to railroads. There has to be a balance in this type of an equation. The balance is often against them by governments and the railway operations. Bill would have at least rectify some of those injustices they have faced over the years. We have heard in the debate today that there are many examples of this across the country.
I first became involved in one of the original railroad disputes in my political career back in 1997 when I was on city council. The federal government had a program at the time to eliminate rail operations that blocked roads. The government was to build bridges and overpasses.
That program was killed by the previous minister of finance, the member for . It was a good infrastructure project, which has not been brought back. There would have been contributions by the federal government to create this separation of rail and traffic. It was very expensive, but very beneficial for the economy, productivity and also the environment. The program would eliminate idling and would have expedited rail and trucking operations.
Wellington Street in Windsor went down into what some people would call a ditch and a rail operation went over the top of the road. The road underpass was not tall enough to allow transport trucks to pass. Oftentimes many U.S. truckers drove down this roadway and would end up having the top of their truck ripped off. It became known as the Wellington can opener.
When the project finally received some funding of about $22 million, construction was to be undertaken to build around the site. First a bridge would be built to get the rails over top of a new span and then create the actual infrastructure underneath for the future. Adjacent to this area was a derelict rail yard. There had been a station there at one point. It had become a dumping ground of which the railway company never took care. It allowed the weeds and grass grow out of control. It had also become a dumping ground for tires and so forth. The area was never cleaned up and the city was constantly fighting over it. It is important to note that the railway was complicit with the city at that time.
While I was on council, I lost a vote ten to one to allow concrete recycling for the construction to take place on that site. The site was the size of a football field and filled with material and concrete that was ripped up and dumped in the field. The waste was about four stories tall.
Adjacent to that was one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Windsor West. It had modest homes and working class families. The neighbourhood had pools and parks. A number of houses were adjacent to this site. Originally the city had agreed to set up a temporary four storey tall concrete recycling operation across the street and down wind. As a community group, we had to fight to reverse council's decision and get the railroad to agree to stop the dumping at this site. It was a big battle.
It was unfair to the constituents of that area because for years they had fought about that. This is another issue not only in terms of pollution, with diesel engines sitting on the tracks for hours and not moving, but also in terms of the vibrations that affect their homes.
I want to point out another example, a more recent one that happened while I was in the House of Commons. It proves the arrogance and unbelievable neglect in terms of community consultation.
In 2003 the VACIS, a gamma X-ray technology, was introduced in the city of Windsor along the rail corridors. At that time, the Liberal government was in power. It did not even consult with the municipality. In consultation with CP Rail and the Department of Homeland Security, it was unilaterally decided to put this X-ray technology system right next to the football field of a local high school.
Further compounding that, as the trains went through the gamma X-ray technology, they had to slow down from 25 to 7 kilometres an hour. Also, about 200 yards before that was a rail crossing with no separation of grade. Trucks, cars, buses and people going to and from the school and the shopping malls were having to wait longer and longer. It was amazing. The city of Windsor had to file a lawsuit against CP Rail to stop it.
At that time, I asked the Liberal minister, Minister McLellan, about this and it was denied altogether. I had my constituency assistant take photographs of the actual equipment on site as it poured cement and graded the original infrastructure for this project. We had to fight the system. It was amazing that there was no consultation whatsoever, and the consequences are significant.
That is why these amendments fly in the face of the type of things that need to happen to make rail operations more accountable to people. We only have to talk to different people in different ridings to understand that conflicts routinely happen. It is the citizens who generally feel, even though the circumstances are different, powerless and helpless. Finally, when Bill came forward, we had an opportunity to inject a bit of justice.
It is important to note that the recent history of some of the rail operations has been rather disturbing and troubling. This accountability is very much a significant step forward. It could have had a net benefit across the country.
It is fine that we had a debate in the House of Commons about back to work legislation. We have had a debate in the House about safety regulations. Now that we finally get an improvement, it is being taken away from us by the unelected senate. I find that unacceptable.
In my riding, and in many ridings, people probably do not even realize the amount of hazardous materials involved in rail operations and the different types of substance involved. They can affect the residents nearby.
Other countries have different practices for bringing greater accountability, and a good example is the United States. Railways were shipping chlorine gas through Dade county, Florida, which goes through our corridors as well. The country fought this and successfully had the chlorine gas rerouted to a non-urban area. Then later on, because of that whole debate, it eliminated the chlorine from the destination, which was a pollution control plant that did water treatment, for a more environmentally friendly product.
There are cases where some laws have been changed. Some of the cities across the United States have succeeded in having certain chemicals rerouted because of their concerns with the ecosystem and also the environment.
In fact, the Department of Homeland Security has declared some of these rail containers of chlorine to be weapons of mass destruction because they can literally, within a 15 mile radius, poison everybody in that area if there were an accident or a terrorist attack. That is why there has been this progression in the United States to move it away from urban areas or to look for other types of materials that would not have the type of danger associated with them.
My constituency has had to fight to get access to rail yards for first responders training and so forth. When we talk about very significant issues like that, which are still causing concern for people, and compare it to the minor step forward for which we are looking, a reasonable one, to establish a process so there will be greater accountability for noise and vibration and empowerment for citizens through mediation, why would we take that away? It is unbelievable and unacceptable.
This is something residents across the country really need to get their heads around. I cannot understand why we would allow an unelected body, which does not have to respond to the concerns of individuals, to decide to usurp a change that would have effectively provided residents a voice. I cannot understand why the government is going on along with that.
This is very much an issue that relates to people's personal property and their values. That is supposed to be the party that claims it has the high ground, understands personal wealth and that people should have protection. At the same time, it is taking away a very modest tool for people to fight back to ensure they can protect themselves, their property value and their communities.
On the issue of rail, it is really important that the amendment is put in the proper context. It is coming from an unelected body that will take away the rights we have fought for over a number of years. More important, I believe it will take away greater accountability on the rail system that would lead to less conflict between neighbourhoods and rail operations. There would be a mandate to try to solve those problems before they became larger issues. That would seem a more progressive approach, in my opinion, in dealing with this.
Rail operations have been in communities for many years without changing. They do not go away. The shunting, the noise and their operations continue. Residents and businesses also continue.
I want to touch briefly on the issue of the commercial airline tickets amendment. When we look at the Competition Bureau, the record of the previous administration and now this one with regard to updating the Competition Act, is based upon a 1969 philosophy.
The minister's briefing book, which I was able to obtain through the Freedom of Information Act, identified specifically that 40 years ago things were quite different and it needed to be updated. That was at the time of the Woodstock festival. The Competition Bureau and the Competition Act need a mandate that is more modernized.
Consumers should have more opportunity to see the real information about the price of a ticket. What they will receive should not be hidden by other charges, fees and expectations of service that are never delivered when they purchase their tickets.
I do not understand why there cannot be a set of rules around that which allow consumers to know this, especially given what has happened now with the Internet and other types of technology specific to the tourism industry. People are shopping more and more on the Internet for airline and vacation destinations. They do that with the openness and hope that there will be comparable factors. Why the Senate would buckle under the lobbying efforts and allow the industry to continue to hide charges, fees and so forth is beyond me.
What we want to do is create some openness so people can shop around for the best air carrier, knowing what they will get and selecting the price based upon that. If they want greater or reduced service, or if they want to know if there are any extra fees or charges, they should be available so they can make their selections based upon that.
Why would we want to take that away from consumers, especially in an industry where there have been a lot of complaints in the past about competition? We want the consumer to have the opportunity to make some decisions and have some authority and power.
These two amendments are very interesting in the sense that I believe they come about through lobby efforts. They come at the expense of civil liberties, which allow individuals to have more consumer protection, information and awareness. This is at a time when personal information is being harvested by many companies and organizations to be used against people in marketing and so forth. However, we cannot allow consumers to have the same openness that companies, which allows them to target individuals in their marketing. We are not going to allow that provision.
The second part is with regard to the railway system and that is extremely offensive. Bill is very important in that we do want to have some improvements but, at the same time, when we take away those two elements from the bill, it becomes much weaker. For that reason I believe we need to defeat the Senate amendments because it is important that consumers and neighbourhoods and communities are protected and, unfortunately, that is being reversed by the Senate amendments.