moved that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill which contains proposed amendments to the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act. Many of the clauses in Bill C-11 are taken from omnibus legislation tabled by previous governments which never passed despite repeated attempts. Bill C-11 is strategic in selecting high priority items, like powers to address railway noise, ensure proper advertisement of airfares and facilitating commuter rail for quick passage.
Bill is the second transport bill I have selected for second reading because it addresses high priority issues that were not addressed by previous governments. The current bill contains amendments to the Canada Transportation Act related to the general provisions, air provisions, rail passenger provisions, railway noise and grain revenue cap. Some of these issues were raised by members in the House during the second reading debate on Bill . I am sure those members will be pleased that we are proceeding with the proposed amendments.
The government plans to table a third bill soon on amendments to the rail freight provisions of the act. These amendments will reflect the views heard during a final round of consultations with shippers to develop as much consensus as possible. The government has assured shippers that it takes their concerns very seriously and will be proceeding with a third bill on a priority basis.
I would now like to focus on Bill , which aims to strike a balance between the interests of communities, consumers, commuters, public transit companies, and air and rail carriers.
We believe that these changes will translate into a better strategic framework, which will help Canada achieve its economic and environmental objectives, increase the efficiency of its transportation system and improve the quality of life of Canadians, especially those living in urban areas.
The proposed amendments include a modernized and simplified national transportation policy statement, which sets out the guiding principles in a way that is simpler and clearer than in the past.
The statement provides direction and guidelines for possible action plans, along with information on how to process complaints and arbitration applications submitted to the Canadian Transportation Agency. The improvements made to this statement are intended to address the concerns expressed by shippers.
Bill contains a number of provisions related to the role and structure of the Canadian Transportation Agency. The number of full time members of the agency would be reduced from seven to five, all of whom would be located at the agency in the National Capital Region. I believe that the efficiency of the agency would be increased if all members were located at the agency on a full time basis. This would be more consistent with the nature of the agency's decision making processes, which normally require more than one member to sign off on decisions, orders and findings.
At the same time, the concentration of members at the agency office in the same location makes it possible to reduce the number of members to five. This is not only an efficient measure; it would bring financial savings as well.
The proposed amendments would give the agency the statutory authority to engage in mediation upon request on matters within its jurisdiction. The amendments would ensure the adequate safeguards are in place to maintain its quasi-judicial role.
Mediation solutions can be simpler, quicker and less litigious and costly than other options. The lines of communication between parties during mediation typically contribute to a healthy commercial relationship after disputes are resolved. In addition, mediated agreements have higher commitment levels as parties jointly craft solutions and the process can assist in narrowing the gaps on disputed issues if brought before the agency at a later date.
Bill also provides for new measures designed to protect air passengers.
The government realizes that Canadians want to know the real price of a plane ticket in airline advertising. It would like the prices advertised for air transportation to be clear and transparent, and not misleading. The airlines have listened to consumers and taken major steps to guarantee greater transparency in their advertising. At the same time, consumers wish to make sure that the industry will continue on the right track.
The amendments proposed in Bill authorize the minister to make regulations that would apply to all media, as necessary. The Air Travel Complaints Commissioner’s Office was created as a temporary, transitional measure in 2000, following the merger of Air Canada and Canadian Airlines International. Bill C-11 would replace the temporary function of the Air Travel Complaints Commissioner with a permanent, transparent function imposed by the law for handling complaints about air transportation. This activity would be part of the regular activities of the Canadian Transportation Agency.
The government recognizes the importance of the air travel complaints program for Canadians. Thanks to the amendments under study, Canadians will still be able to address their air travel complaints to the Canadian Transportation Agency.
The proposed amendments in Bill will improve the framework for passenger rail service in Canada by allowing commuter rail operators and VIA Rail Canada to seek adjudication from the agency if they are unable to reach agreement with the railways on access to track and other services when new agreements are negotiated or existing agreements renegotiated.
In addition the line transfer and abandonment provisions will be extended to include urban corridor and urban transit authorities. Bill will give the agency the authority to settle noise disputes if voluntary efforts are not successful. The agency will be able to order a railway to make the necessary changes in order to reduce unreasonable noise levels associated with railway operation or construction.
Governments need access to good data to help develop and assess transportation policies and programs. The existing data provisions in the Canada Transportation Act will improve to add security as a purpose for which I can collect data. The amendments will also expand the list of stakeholders from whom data can be gathered and improve on the administrative penalties that can be applied if reporting requirements are not met.
The amendments in Bill would introduce a new merger review procedure, which would apply to all carriers and service providers under federal jurisdiction, for example, air, rail and maritime transport, bus and truck transportation, and airports and seaports.
This approach would build on the strong points of the merger review process now in place for airline companies.
This process was put in place with the amendments made to the Canada Transportation Act in 2000 as a result of the issues of public interest raised by the acquisition of Canadian Airlines International by Air Canada. This new mechanism replaced the requirements of the Competition Act respecting merger reviews.
Here are the chief elements of the proposed provision respecting mergers:
Merger applicants must address specific issues in the new merger review guidelines.
I will be authorized to appoint someone to review the proposed transaction if the proposal raises enough issues with respect to the public interest as it relates to national transportation.
The provision provides for a single government decision to be made so as to avoid duplication. I will handle public interest concerns, and the competition commissioner will look at competition concerns.
The proposed amendments include a new provision that authorizes me to enter into an agreement with a provincial authority under which the provincial authority would regulate a federal railway.
One other main element of the previous Bill that I would like to explain is a proposed new provision on the grain revenue cap, which limits the amount of revenue that Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railway can earn from regulated grain movements in western Canada. The provision is linked to the costs of maintaining hopper cars for such movements. On May 4, I announced that the government would retain its fleet of 12,100 grain hopper cars in order to maximize benefits for farmers and taxpayers.
There is a provision in Bill that would enable me to make a one time only request to the agency to adjust the revenue caps to reflect the current maintenance costs for all hopper cars used in regulated grain movements. This will more closely align the costs in the revenue caps with the actual costs of maintaining the hopper cars in revenue cap service. Estimates show potential savings for farmers of approximately $2 per tonne or about $50 million per year based on an average movement of about 25 million tonnes.
I also want to explain the proposed amendments to the Railway Safety Act. They are fairly straightforward. The Canada Transportation Act authorizes federally regulated railways to establish and operate their own police forces. CNR and CPR maintain police forces as do provincial railways and transit authorities. The duties of railway police constables relate to the protection of property owned or administered by the company, and of the persons and equipment on that property. Only a judge of a superior court, upon the application of a railway, is allowed to appoint, dismiss or discharge railway police constables. The power to appoint police constables is being moved from the CTA to the Railway Safety Act. The Railway Safety Act deals with matters pertaining to the safety and security of railways, making it a more appropriate statutory authority to deal with railway police.
In addition, amendments to the Railway Safety Act will require that the railways establish an independent review mechanism for responding to public complaints against railway police. The review mechanism will be filed with me for approval.
In closing, I want to reiterate that Bill is consistent with the government's legislative strategy for amending the Canada Transportation Act. The strategy is to proceed with amendments that stakeholders are already demanding, have awaited for several years, and that reflect extensive consultations and consensus building.
I believe that the proposals contained in this bill will have strong support from stakeholders and that they look forward to early passage of the bill. I encourage all members to give Bill their full endorsement.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to respond to the minister and to speak to Bill .
Today we begin debating Bill . I am pleased that this debate is taking place as it will enable us to help Canadians understand the path that this project has taken.
Amendments to the Canada Transportation Act were introduced for the first time in Bill during the second session of the 37th Parliament.
Unfortunately, the current Prime Minister and the rest of the Canadian Alliance at the time were opposed to these measures and voted against them at second reading.
We reintroduced these amendments in Bill in the 38th Parliament. Once again the opposition at that time felt that the bill presented to the House was not good legislation. It decided to bring down the government and at the same time to drop the bill for a second time.
If this sounds familiar, let me assure the House that it is not déjà vu. One of the last debates that was held before the House rose this past spring concerned Bill , the first bill brought to our consideration by the in the 39th Parliament. During the debate on the bill, I welcomed the minister's decision to bring important legislation, which had died on the order paper, back to the floor of the House.
Bill is the second bill that the has introduced in this session, which relies on the heavy lifting of a previous Liberal government, and it will not be the last.
We are happy to see the minority government again endorsing solid Liberal legislation in actions rather than words, by pushing for Bill 's quick adoption in the House. While we agree in principle with much of what is being presented, there have been substantial changes to the workings of the bill. My colleagues and I will address some of these and outline our concerns today and in the days ahead. In turn, though, the onus remains on the government to convince us and Canadians that the legislation is still well-founded.
The parliamentary history of the bill is important at the outset for our context and so too is the wider history of the two bills that Bill aims to amend.
Back in 1996, a decade ago, the first of the two, the Canada Transportation Act, laid out our national transport policy. It was really a vision to modernize and deregulate rail and airline traffic. It consolidated the 1987 National Transportation Act, which itself had roots in a 1967 predecessor, and the venerable Railway Act into one unified law. At the same time the new Canada Transportation Act took steps to reduce or eliminate subsidies for transport, costs that were borne by all Canadians.
The second act to be amended by Bill is the Railway Safety Act. The act allows Transport Canada to review and upgrade the regulations, the standards and rules for rail safety oversight. It is precautionary legislation and should be the home of our attempts to improve the safety for the millions and millions of children and pedestrians, motorists, travellers and workers who come into contact with trains every day across our country.
A thorough statutory review of the Canada Transportation Act was completed again by our government in 2001 and it was very important in forming Bill by way of its earlier incarnations. The bill we debate today is the third attempt to legislate following that review.
Let me begin our consideration with provisions that are similar in principle to the most recent version that we presented, Bill .
I would like to review some of the provisions of this bill beginning with those concerning noise caused by railway operations.
My riding, like a good number of Canadian communities, is home to railway activities and I am fully aware of the disputes arising between residents of the communities and the railway companies because of noise.
I am pleased to see that proposed amendments to the Canada Transportation Act empower the Canadian Transportation Agency to deal with noise complaints and, if necessary, to order railway companies to make changes in order to reduce unreasonable noise.
This is an important matter, one aspect of the problem that my colleagues and I look forward to examining in greater detail.
Also on the subject of rail, proposed amendments in Bill involve the expansion of the provisions on railway line transfers and discontinuances to cover rail corridors, such as spurs and sidings, in urban areas that could be used for urban transit purposes.
As members may know, I have long been a strong proponent and advocate of public urban transit. In fact , right here in the city of Ottawa I was pleased to help deliver $200 million of federal funding to expand our own O-Train.
Steps that we can take to improve public transit and advance the use of rail in Canadian cities are worthwhile undertakings. Giving a right of refusal for urban transit authorities to purchase rail that would otherwise be abandoned is very good public policy. That is why two previous Liberal ministers of transport have tried to pass the legislation through the House.
On a related subject, I am also frustrated with the government's ill-informed tax break on public transit passes.
Many riders, as we know, do not have monthly or yearly passes to use public transit. In fact, many users forgo passes for the flexibility of tickets. The most needy riders simply do not have the wherewithal to buy an annual pass. Studies that were shown to the before he took his decision to make transit passes tax deductible, and brought to his attention by his own officials, demonstrated that tax deductible transit passes did not encourage increasing ridership and did not have the corollary intended effect of substantial greenhouse gas reductions that the government purported they should have. The cost per tonne of GHG reduction through these transit passes is exorbitantly high. This again speaks to the pattern of the government of never letting the evidence get in the way of governing by tax credit.
The Conservatives should have spent the budget money on better infrastructure and lower rates for all users.
However, getting back to Bill , if these amendments mean more urban rail, then I say that we should take a look.
The minister has asserted that Bill would bring clarity in airfare advertising by giving the Canadian Transportation Agency the authority to regulate advertised pricing of airfares. The goal, of course, is to indicate all fees, all charges and all taxes collected by the airline on behalf of a government body or an airport authority. It must also disclose the price of an airline ticket for both domestic and international travel.
If these provisions, which are also inherited from our Bill , ultimately help everyday Canadians to more readily understand and determine the total cost of a travelling ticket and the terms and conditions that apply to its purchase, then I will welcome them on behalf of my constituents who, as consumers, face a barrage of misleading information, often from the travel sector.
Bill would create a mediation process for disputes concerning federal transportation matters that are within the jurisdiction of the Canadian Transport Agency.
The member for Outremont, as , delivered legislative language to this House on this for us because mediation is less litigious and therefore quicker and cheaper and ultimately leads to friendlier resolutions in transportation disagreements.
Bill would add security to the list of purposes for which transportation data can be collected by the minister. This is an expansion of the minister's powers that was fiercely resisted by the Canadian Alliance the last time it was debated and fiercely by the the last time it was debated.
As someone who witnessed the events of 9/11 as a visitor in Washington D.C. on the morning that those awful events occurred, I am open to considering such measures. We need to give our government the tools to protect us in the event of threats to Canadian life that are meticulously planned and malicious.
However, I recognize that this provision sets off alarm bells for many actors in Canadian society, not least because it would allow the minister to set administrative monetary penalties for individuals or companies that do not supply data that the minister might request.
As I indicated earlier, the onus is on the minister to justify this expansion of his powers to all Canadians. I look forward to the explanations from the minister about the import of certain other provisions as well. Let me briefly outline some of them.
Bill would reduce the number of members of the Canadian Transportation Agency from seven to five. We just heard the minister state that this would lead to cost savings. I would be looking for the numbers. If we move from seven part time members to five full time members now resident in the Ottawa area, I would like to see the numbers to substantiate this claim that it will amount to cost savings while at the same time the mandate of the Canadian Transportation Agency is being seriously expanded.
Our proposal was to streamline the agency in Bill and it could have been law by now. The minister will have to explain to Canadians why fewer members can do the job better than the seven who are currently endorsed, while the mandate of the agency is being expanded in the act.
Bill would allow Transport Canada to review mergers and acquisitions in all federal transportation sectors, not just airlines as our Bill planned in the last Parliament. This is a very large discretionary power, a power that is being invested in the minister and in the government. I imagine that the government would say that it is necessary to protect the national interest. However, it is a provision with economic consequences. I would ask the minister to outline his rationale for this incursion, for this disturbance, for this fettering of the market. It is unusual to hear a Conservative government speak of fettering the marketplace, particularly as it expands into the precious area of mergers and acquisitions.
Bill would require companies to set a process for complaints against their railway police constables under the Railway Safety Act. This too was part of our inspirational predecessor Bill . It refers to the creation of an internal complaints process rather than a government process or board of some sort. Is an internal process up to the job? The minister has not addressed the question at all. By demanding that records be kept it should permit us to retrace the facts and timeline of any complaints.
One area that has attracted public attention and will inevitably require the government's thorough explanation is the elimination of the post of Air Travel Complaints Commissioner. Many Canadians will recall that this position was introduced by the Liberal government in 2000 with the merger of Air Canada and Canadian Airlines.
Bill would officially merge the complaints process into the mainstream of the Canadian Transportation Agency dropping the more autonomous ombudsman-like position which heretofore found its way into the office of the Air Travel Complaints Commissioner. Why? We have supported this position in the past and we may be prepared to do so again but not without a full and frank examination of the point.
Bill is composed of amendments that are the fruit of extensive consultations that our government conducted to update the legislative framework of our national transportation system. The way that Bill C-11 is currently written, the minister would be required to report on the state of Canadian transportation every three years and carry out a new statutory review of the Canadian Transportation Act eight years after Bill C-11 enters into force.
All of this being said, I must wrap up on a note of disappointment. Section 43 of Bill alludes to a major reversal in policy, a decision taken early on by the minister that has rightly upset farmers right across our Canadian western provinces.
The Government of Canada made a commitment in 1996 to transfer the federal fleet of hopper cars to the Farmer Rail Car Coalition. The final commitment was signed in the fall of 2005 but the Conservative government has now reneged. We have no explanation and no understanding. The minister spoke moments ago about cost savings and about a net saving of $2 per tonne of material shipped. No evidence has been presented to the House and I see no evidence at committee. I am looking forward to hearing why it is the government has reneged and why farmers continue to pay more than is necessary to ship their product.
My colleague, the hon. member for , has mounted a passionate opposition. We will hear from him again on this subject in due course.
I do commend the government for reintroducing many of our forward looking transport measures in this 39th parliament. For the most part, with Bill the minister has again lent credence to that old literary maxim that goes something like this, “sometimes good writers borrow, but great writers steal”.
I wish to be clear that there are significant new provisions in the bill. As such, I look forward to working with hon. colleagues from all parties to properly and thoroughly examine and revise Bill in committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of my party, the Bloc Québécois, to Bill .
Before getting right into Bill , I will provide some background on this bill so that our colleagues in this House, those who are newly elected, and Quebeckers and Canadians watching us, can understand how we ended up today with such a bill that is an amalgamation of parts of other bills.
Bill originated in Bills and , which were introduced in the last two Parliaments. Bill C-26 was introduced on February 25, 2003, and Bill C-44 on March 24, 2005. The Conservative government decided not to use the entire content of all these bills.
The minister did in fact say that what is being introduced today is essentially identical to what has been introduced before. However, he failed to say that the bills that were introduced by previous governments and received the support of the Bloc Québécois were much more consistent, especially in matters relating to the railway.
Let us not forget that Bill , among others, had the advantage of resolving the VIA Rail situation. Everyone knows why the Conservative Party decided to split Bill C-44 and not present the same bill: because it was always annoyed with the part of the bill affecting VIA Rail. It was always against allowing VIA Rail to develop so that we could finally have a rail line between Montreal and Windsor, between Quebec City and Montreal, and even between Montreal and Boston. To the Conservative Party, developing transportation does not mean the railway. My colleague from is absolutely right: this is more than a refusal to subsidize; they do not want to allow VIA Rail to be a corporate entity.
In fact, Bill would have enabled VIA Rail to become an entity capable of taking charge of its own rail development and of arranging its own borrowing. That did not suit the Conservative Party. We have to look at the context. Today, it is a good thing that we are presented with a bill on railway transportation, but we have already gone beyond Bill C-44. Indeed, we are now involved in some major amendments. However, we have put aside the question of VIA Rail and railway development in such major corridors as Quebec City and Montreal, Montreal and Windsor, and even Montreal and Boston.
It has been very difficult for us to understand that position. It is important that Quebeckers understand the values that the Conservative party is defending. They are values that are completely different from the values that we proclaim. Clearly, rail transport is more environmentally friendly. We should be tabling bills that recognize that fact and allow rail transportation to develop to its full potential. The Conservative party refuses to do this, as I have explained, in the Montreal to Windsor corridor, between Quebec City and Montréal, and between Montreal and Boston.
Thus, they developed Bill , based on Bill , which had been introduced by the previous governments, by the Liberals, and out of which they retained one part dealing with railways.
I do not have time to talk about the entire bill, because it also deals with air transport. I will concentrate on several important matters. If I had the unanimous consent of the House to use the entire afternoon, I would be pleased to discuss it all. However, I will not even make that request because I would be surprised if my colleagues were to give consent.
Nevertheless, there are some important points concerning railway transportation. I will go directly to one issue that in many Quebec ridings has always been an environmental concern, that is, noise pollution.
Pollution cannot always be felt or touched. However, it can be heard. Thanks to new technology, we have replaced humans with mechanical devices and machinery. When trains are being assembled in the marshalling yards, the shunting of cars makes a devilish noise. Many communities have spoken out against these operating companies. The echo has reached as far as the federal government.
I will cite a few examples. Hochelaga has the Moreau yard; Brome—Missisquoi has the Farnham yard; and Jeanne-Le Ber and Lévis—Bellechasse also have yards. They all have problems linked to noise pollution caused by the work carried out in a marshalling yard.
We might all think that new technology allows everything to be done quietly, as circumstances evolve, and that noise pollution is now at the safest possible levels. On the contrary, decreased manual handling actually means mechanical switching that is less effective and very noisy. Neighbouring communities have every reason to complain. Thus, such complaints led to the change proposed in this bill.
I would like to assure the House that the Bloc Québécois will support this bill, especially those sections, which I will summarize here, that address noise pollution.
We would have liked to see even stricter provisions, but we are willing to give this system a chance, a system that involves mediation, cooperation and, finally, decisions taken by the Canadian Transportation Agency. Earlier, I asked the this question. Although the municipal level has tried to resolve the issue of noise pollution with decibel standards, as custom dictates, we face a simple problem: federal laws override all other laws, including provincial and municipal. In other words, even if cities want to adopt regulations regarding decibels or noise pollution, the entire federal sector does not have to comply with municipal standards. We should therefore support the content of the bill as tabled today.
I would reiterate to all Quebeckers who endure the problems caused by these yards: we accept this approach to resolving the problem. This is evolution, after all, and the reason for it is understandable.
Clause 29 reads as follows:
The Act is amended by adding the following after section 95:
95.1 When constructing or operating a railway, a railway company must not cause unreasonable noise, taking into account
(a) its obligations under sections 113 and 114, if applicable;
(b) its operational requirements; and
(c) the area where the construction or operation takes place.
These are the obligations “when constructing or operating a railway”.
As such, the standards do not set out a specific limit on decibel levels. Rather, this bill says that you are not allowed to operate unreasonably or to create unreasonable noise pollution. We are setting a standard based on what is unreasonable.
What impact would that have? It would be an improvement over the status quo, which does not touch on this. Any complaints would be addressed as follows:
The Agency may issue and publish, in any manner that it considers appropriate, guidelines with respect to
(a) the elements that the Agency will use to determine whether a railway company is complying with section 95.1 [which I just read to you]; and
(b) the collaborative resolution of noise complaints relating to the construction or operation of railways.
Thus the idea is to promote cooperative measures: sitting all the parties down together and finding the best way to solve the problem. Before establishing guidelines, the agency consults the stakeholders. Nothing would be imposed; instead, there would be discussions and negotiations.
I would point out that in certain locations, including the Moreau yard in Hochelaga, despite ten years of negotiations between citizens' committees and the company that operates the yard, they still have not managed to reach an agreement on possible measures to please the majority. We would like to see that happen, but the only thing now permitted by law is direct intervention by the agency. It can then act once a complaint is received.
Under section 95.3, the agency:
on receipt of a complaint, may order a railway company to undertake any changes in its railway construction or operation that the Agency considers reasonable in order to prevent unreasonable noise.
This is the first time a bill has stipulated that the agency can oblige an operator to resolve the problem based on cooperative measures negotiated between the various stakeholders. This is more or less the case.
This is not the cure-all. We are not yet at the stage of obliging companies to comply with a standard regarding a certain number of decibels. Yet my colleague from , who is our expert on the environment, knows very well that international standards regarding noise pollution now exist. It becomes dangerous to human health when certain levels are exceeded. However, we are not quite there yet.
In short, whether the government is Conservative or Liberal, it is often said that one is the same as the other.
There has been a slight change, a slight movement in the direction of change, but we are not yet ready to adopt international standards for noise pollution. We could set the number of decibels that companies must not exceed and we could monitor the noise levels with decibel meters now that this equipment is available. However, we are not quite there yet. Nevertheless, there has been change. We are giving authority and some teeth to the Canadian Transportation Agency.
Since it appears that the government, whether Conservative or Liberal, has not wanted to go any further, we will see what happens, and we may be able to exert some pressure in the committee. Nevertheless, it is better than what we had before. Quebeckers will always be able to rely on the Bloc Québécois to represent their interests. If they are not properly represented, we will demand legislative amendments. That represents the first, important part of this bill.
The second part concerns the obligation of airline companies to publish in all media, including on the Internet, their prices for air services in Canada. This is dealt with in clause 27 of the bill. The regulations may require that an advertised price for air services include all costs to the carrier of providing the service, and that the advertisement indicate all fees, charges and taxes collected by the carrier on behalf of another person so as to enable a purchaser to readily determine the total amount to be paid for the service. This has been called for by the Bloc Québécois for a long time.
Families put money aside. We work 50 weeks in a year in order to pay for one or two weeks of vacation. We read the advertising and think we have enough money to cover all costs. When we make the reservation we realize that the price does not include charges and taxes.
For some time now the Bloc Québécois has been asking for this situation to be clarified, so that Quebeckers, who work hard to earn a living and pay their taxes to the governments, can treat themselves to vacations without having any surprises when they make their reservations. It is understandable for the Bloc Québécois to be in favour of the amendment proposed in this bill. So when the airlines post a price, it will be the full price. We are not demanding that hotel expenses be included, although now the all-inclusive package exists. All expenses will be included once this bill has been passed. The Bloc Québécois is pleased to give its consent to this part of the bill.
The third part I would like to discuss concerns the section of clause 39 and following, respecting the abandonment of railway lines and sidings. It was time the government cleared up this situation so that, when a railway company gets rid of a railway line, it can be obliged to offer it before selling it to private enterprise or doing whatever it wants with it.
The obligations contained in the bill seem clear: the railway line is offered first to the passenger service provider. Let us say that VIA Rail operates a passenger train and decides to stop running it. Via Rail must first offer it to the local transit authority, which can then decide to operate it.
As for all the rest, that is, sidings and other tracks that would not be used for passenger transportation, the provision is to offer them to the province, then the transit authority and finally the cities.
I know that the Union des municipalités du Québec has already asked to appear before the committee. In committee we will see what the cities think. We will see whether it is still necessary to make an offer to the transit authority before offering it to the cities. There is still this dilemma, given that the operating budgets of the transit authorities often come in large part from users. Often the transit authorities have grants to purchase equipment, but operations are often subsidized by cities. We will see what the municipal unions ask for in this file.
For us it seems very important that we have a policy respecting the transfer of railway lines, that is, of those that are or will be dismantled. It seems important too that we can offer them and use them appropriately, especially for the transportation of passengers. The future in transportation lies in maritime and rail transportation, more ecological ways of transporting freight and people.
Since the Bloc Québécois is still defending the Kyoto objectives, we seem to be increasingly isolated in this House.
The Conservative Party wants to have its own green program, its own green plan. It seems to be more in agreement with the positions taken by the United States and other countries that are not abiding by the Kyoto protocol, rather than the large majority of countries that have signed the protocol.
Obviously, in our view, railway transportation is a very worthwhile and important way of looking at development. That is why we could never stress enough the importance of VIA Rail’s mission. I will repeat what I said at the very beginning. Sometimes, it is important to state the message that one wants to convey more than once. In Bills and , there was an entire part dealing with VIA Rail, which enabled it to develop and to adopt a plan that would, in particular, have enabled Quebec to open itself up in terms of the railway. Quebec could then have turned its gaze to the rest of the world, for example to Boston, the United States and Ontario. The Conservative Party has decided to settle the VIA Rail issue. We had been told that one day, perhaps, we might come back to it. I think that what is happening here is that the entire development of VIA Rail is being buried, but that is the choice made by the Conservative Party and it is not adopted by the Bloc Québécois.
The aim of this bill is to solve the various safety-related problems involved in transportation. The minister told us earlier that this bill has set us on the green path. I have taken a few minutes to explain that what eliminating VIA Rail actually did was throw a big lead weight, a big rock, into the canoe the is paddling toward a green development plan using rail transportation.
Earlier, I sensed that the minister was quite uncomfortable when he was asked a question about transportation safety. The title of this bill is, in fact, . We might then think that this bill is going to solve safety problems. Far from it. There is not one cent for safety. Thanks to what the Journal de Montréal has revealed concerning Dorval airport, we have seen how the minister, the government and Transport Canada manage safety. Plainly Canada is just putting out fires.
Money was put into resolving the passenger problem because at one point passengers had taken control of planes. We also experienced the events of September 11. Then the government decided to focus on passenger safety. However, we can make ourselves at home in the rest of the terminal. As we saw in the Journal de Montréal report, nothing has changed. The more things change, the more they stay the same. There is no culture of safety in Canada. We can forget that.
To have a culture of safety is to ensure at all times, when there is an objective, that absolutely nothing is forgotten and that we are capable of analyzing every plan. That is not what Canada does. Canada has a piecemeal approach. When something happens then we try to address it.
I will close on this idea of the culture of safety that Canada is lacking. They preferred putting our money in provincial jurisdictions. They preferred engaging in regional development, which is a responsibility of the Government of Quebec, instead of taking care of security at the borders. The problem is that the Government of Canada was unable to secure funding for its own mandates. There is no culture of safety. That is what the Journal de Montréal showed in Dorval. And it was just a year later when the same thing happened at Toronto's Pearson airport.
Will the Conservative Party be able to resolve the security problems? Forget about it. It has neither the will nor the means. It wants yet again to interfere in the provinces' responsibilities and it chooses to spend outside its own jurisdiction. This just further proves that the Canadian government does not defend the interests of Quebeckers, since it is unable to take care of its own security.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to have the opportunity to provide information on the provisions relating to air transportation in the proposed Bill , the amendments to the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act. First, I can assure the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel that this government does stand up for the people of Quebec. We listen to the people of Quebec and this is an example that we listen and will make changes.
In fact, these are common issues across Canada. I had the opportunity to put some 3,000 kilometres on rental cars this summer travelling around the lower mainland of British Columbia and Alberta. I visited many of the members of Parliament from British Columbia, for instance, the members for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, Kelowna—Lake Country and Abbotsford. All of these members had issues that were very similar to the issues that the member raised. I can assure him that our caucus as well as many other members of other caucuses come to me with these issues and we will act on them for the betterment of the people of Canada.
One of the driving reasons for the introduction of this bill is that this government sees and believes that a modern, effective transportation system is integral to the well-being of Canada's economy. A proper and well planned out transportation initiative across the country, a hub system, as well as a system that has adequate highways and rail will be only good for the people of Canada and we understand that. It contributes to the air industry in Canada that is competitive as well as continental and global markets.
Canada's air industry is a vibrant and dynamic one, as the member knows. It contributes to a prosperous and innovative economy which benefits all Canadians. The air industry in Canada helps drive economic development in all sectors of our society. The Conservative government and the Prime Minister is committed to promoting competition in the air transportation sector because this increases consumer choice to the travelling public and provides better service and pricing.
The government is also committed to regulating only where deemed necessary and advantageous to the Canadian public. The objectives of the proposed air transportation amendments meet this government's commitments to Canadians. This bill provides for technical and housekeeping amendments necessary to modernize the act since it was last amended in 1996. As all members of the House know, the transportation industry is integral to Canada's economy. It is an ever changing environment and we need to stay as good stewards on that, making changes as necessary.
The proposed amendments will also provide a clear role in how the Canadian Transportation Agency will continue to exercise its functions in the future, which is also very important. The proposed legislation offers additional consumer protection to assist Canadian travellers as they continue to make choices respecting travel in Canada and abroad.
I will now speak to the proposed amendments that would enhance the protection of Canadian consumers. Although there were concerns regarding some potential abuses that may have taken place when Air Canada acquired Canadian Airlines in 2000 due to the resulting market dominance of Air Canada, this is no longer the case. In fact, we have seen dynamic changes in the Canadian domestic industry over the last few years, as most Canadians recognize.
The proposed amendments would actually reflect the reality of today's Canadian air industry by returning the agency to its well established regulatory and complaints based function and structure which was in place prior to 2000. The government is committed to regulating only where necessary and where the Canadian public would be best served.
Today I am proud to say that Canada has a world class air system and boasts several well established airlines providing international, national, regional and charter airline services. Airlines such as Air Canada, WestJet, CanJet, First Air, Air North, Air Transat, Air Mikisew, which is actually located in my constituency of Fort McMurray—Athabasca, and many others. All of these companies are providing increased competition and consumer choice in all areas of the country and indeed on the global stage.
I also wish to recognize that new carriers are seeking to enter the Canadian air industry because it is so healthy. These industry carriers propose to offer Canadian consumers additional choice in air travel. This government listens.
The proposed amendments would continue to allow our new and expanding airlines to make their decisions based on private sector commercial realities free of unnecessary legislation that is not providing any benefit to Canadians. The government is committed to letting Canadian air carriers develop and grow based on the merits of the business choices they make.
The Office of the Air Travel Complaints Commissioner was created in 2000 to review complaints and attempt to resolve the issues informally on behalf of air travellers. The commissioner served as a useful tool during this transition period only to assist consumers with their complaints following Air Canada's merger with Canadian Airlines.
The Canadian air transportation market has dramatically changed even since then. Today the complaints received by the airline agency are distributed more proportionately across Canada's air carriers, including even low cost carriers. Competition in the marketplace is one of the most effective mechanisms to ensure service quality. The government encourages competition for the betterment of Canadians.
Complaints now increasingly relate to matters that fall within the ongoing jurisdiction and mandate of the agency itself. The government recognizes the importance of an ongoing informal complaints process to get results for Canadians. The proposed amendments would therefore make transparent and permanent, like this government, the air travel complaints function. The informal complaints resolution function launched so effectively by the commissioner would be made permanent and would be integrated into the regular operations of the agency. This would be supplemented by the agency's ongoing regulatory responsibilities.
Since the fall of 2004, the agency has demonstrated its continued effectiveness in its ability to handle consumer complaints. Canadians have received results, the same as this government is dedicated to doing. It has consolidated its ongoing informal processes in an air travel complaints program. With this step and the legislative measures proposed, the Canadian public can be reassured that the agency will continue to respond to travellers' complaints in an informal manner and consistent with its ongoing mandate.
The government wishes to ensure that Canadian consumers are offered clear choices in air travel. Where necessary, the government will take on the responsibility of protecting consumers in exercising these choices. The government is aware of consumers' concerns that airfare advertising be clear, transparent and not misleading. Consumers have told us that they want to be able to compare different airline advertised pricing and to know up front how much they will pay for these air services.
Canadian carriers have heard the message. Canadian airlines have taken important steps to respond to consumer demands even so far. However, some consumers remain concerned that price advertisements prepared by air carriers, either in the newspaper or on the Internet or other methods, do not always contain complete or clear price information. This government is listening to Canadians.
Other countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia have implemented policies, legislation or voluntary mechanisms with the cooperation of the airline industries in order that consumers have sufficient pricing information regarding air travel ads that display their prices. Some provinces such as Quebec and Ontario require transparent advertising of air travel by travel agents and other provincially regulated operators. Canadian consumers have told us that they want a similar level of transparency for advertising by airlines across Canada, and the government intends to do that with the cooperation, of course, of the other parties.
As already noted, Canadian airlines are moving toward improving advertising transparency with the encouragement of the government. These decisions are prompted by past year demands and respond to other dynamic changes in the industry. The government recognizes that market forces will maintain the pressure on air carriers to take further steps to ensure clear and transparent advertising.
It is for this reason that the proposed amendments provide the minister with the ability to authorize the development of regulations for transparency in airfare advertising in all media. These regulations, should they become necessary only, would be enforced by the agency. This would ensure that these standards are consistently applied across the industry by all domestic and foreign carriers and their agents for flights operating within or originating within Canada.
These provisions clearly signal the government's expectations in this regard and put the industry on notice, that notice being to further modify their practices voluntarily as required by Canadian consumers or be regulated by the government.
In addition, consumers are entitled to know the terms and conditions of the air service before they book a flight. Consumers want that and this government is responding. This is consistent with the government's commitment to ensure the transparency of information to allow consumers to make informed travel choices.
The proposed amendments would require all commercial air operators, both domestic and foreign carriers, operating air services in Canada to promptly display their terms of carriage. That will be necessary at their places of business and on any Internet site, or from wherever else they sell these air services.
These proposed amendments would ensure that Canadian consumers are adequately informed of their rights and the obligations of the air carrier for flights offered as they make choices regarding their travel arrangements. It gives them choices because they know what decisions they need to make.
In conclusion, the proposed amendments reflect the Government of Canada's commitment to a liberalized and competitive air transportation system for the betterment of Canadians wanting to make choices, a system that balances the need to update statutory and regulatory instruments, where necessary, to respond to developments in the air industry marketplace, with the responsibility as well to ensure that consumers, as I have said a few times, are offered choices and options consistent with a fully deregulated market so they know what they are going to buy before they buy it.
We firmly believe that these changes to the Canada Transportation Act are warranted, that they will give the Canadian Transportation Agency the ability to continue to serve the travelling Canadian public well, and will ensure that Canada continues to have a viable and competitive air service industry in the many years to come.
This government listens to Canadians and will act on their priorities.