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41st PARLIAMENT, 1st SESSION

EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 254

CONTENTS

Thursday, May 23, 2013




House of Commons Debates

VOLUME 146 
l
NUMBER 254 
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1st SESSION 
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41st PARLIAMENT 

OFFICIAL REPORT (HANSARD)

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Speaker: The Honourable Andrew Scheer

    The House met at 10 a.m.

Prayers



ROUTINE PROCEEDINGS

[Routine Proceedings]

  (1005)  

[Translation]

Committees of the House

Status of Women 

    Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the sixth report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, entitled “Bill S-2, An Act respecting family homes situated on First Nation reserves and matrimonial interests or rights in or to structures and lands situated on those reserves”. The committee has studied the bill and has agreed to report the bill back to the House without amendment.

[English]

Procedure and House Affairs  

    Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the following reports from the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs: the 53rd report, requesting an extension of 15 sitting days to consider the report of the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Ontario 2012; the 54th report, requesting an extension of 15 days to consider the report for the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Quebec 2012; and the 55th report, pursuant to Standing Orders 104 and 114, regarding membership of the committees of the House.
    If the House gives its consent, I intend to move concurrence in the 53rd, 54th and 55th reports later this day.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act

     He said: Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure I rise in the House today to introduce my private member's bill, an act to amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act related to period of residence conditions.
    The bill encourages mobility of Canadian citizens and permanent residents while assisting provinces to manage their finances. The bill amends the FPFAA to remove the penalties currently in place should a province wish to implement a minimum period of residence requirement with respect to provincial social assistance. The bill aligns residence conditions for the Canada social transfer with those of the Canada health transfer as well as with those of other advanced democracies in the world.

     (Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Committees of the House

Procedure and House Affairs  

    Mr. Speaker, I move that the 53rd, 54th and 55th reports of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs presented to the House earlier today be concurred in.

    (Motion agreed to)

[Translation]

Industry, Science and Technology  

     Mr. Speaker, I move that the first report of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, presented to the House on Monday, May 7, 2012, be concurred in.
     I am pleased to speak about this very important report on e-commerce that was prepared by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.
    This is one of many reports that point out not only the difficulties being encountered in the area of e-commerce but also this government's failure to set out a digital strategy for Canada. The industry and opposition members have been calling for such a strategy for many years now, but the Minister of Industry has never said anything at all about a long-term digital strategy that would bring Canada into the 21st century. This report is perfectly in line with guidelines that could be established as part of this digital strategy.
    We are well aware that the Conservatives are allergic to the word “strategy” because it implies that they will have to think long term, beyond 2015, and have a long-term vision that will help Canada to move forward. We are still waiting for the Conservatives. They need to set guidelines so that companies that provide wireless and telecommunication services know where they stand, so that small and medium-sized businesses also have access to the tools they need to develop, and so that Canadians have access to affordable and effective Internet services no matter where they live in this vast, beautiful country.
    During our study of e-commerce, we determined that, in general, Canadians enjoy using the Internet and all the different ways of accessing it. However, the government does not seem to be aware of that. For instance, it is eliminating programs that, in some areas, provided the public with Internet access through libraries, and it is putting off the 700 MHz wireless spectrum auction. We are at a standstill while all the other OECD countries and even the emerging countries are making great strides in this area.
    I would like to share some statistics that support what I am saying, which is that Canadians are avid Internet users. According to the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, the CWTA, traffic on certain Canadian networks is growing by 5% each week. That is significant. The wireless penetration rate should exceed 100% in 2014. We need to know the quality and speed of the network so that we can ensure that service is the same all across Canada. Again, according to the CWTA, Canadians send more than 274 million texts per day. In the first nine months of 2012, they sent 61.5 billion. This responds to a very important need for Canadians, a need that is not new but has been around for a long time. History has demonstrated that Canada was built on that need for communication. That was the subject of our debate yesterday.

  (1010)  

    First nations were already travelling the lakes and rivers to meet with one another, to connect. The famous transcontinental train, which satisfied a need to connect Canada's regions, also helped build this country. Canadians have an ongoing need to communicate with one another, no matter where they live. In the 21st century, we have moved from connecting via lakes, rivers, roads and railways to connecting via a virtual highway.
    Yet, there is no help from the government. There is no direction. There is no long-term strategy or vision to support the industry players and create infrastructure and ways to connect Canadians, regardless of their means or where they live.
    When this e-commerce report was being prepared, the NDP did not just encourage the government to bridge the gap between Canada's regions, it demanded it.
    We called for various things. My notes are in English, so I will say this in English, although I like to address the House in French. Actually, there is a great expression that sums up very well what I am trying to say. Right now, there is a divide between urban and rural or remote regions. The wish expressed by the NDP in the dissenting opinion would be a great objective that could be part of a digital strategy, if the government were to take some action and put these recommendations into practice.
    We had a number of recommendations.

  (1015)  

[English]

    The NDP dissident opinion in the e-commerce report I am speaking to was presented by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.
    First, we asked the government to bridge the digital divide. Right now in Canada there is a digital divide whereby some regions are deprived of high-speed Internet and the means to communicate with other regions of Canada. There seems to be a lack of services or of reliability of service in different regions of Canada.
    In the House of Commons, we have talked about how important it is to make sure that no matter where people live, whether in northern regions or rural regions or anywhere else in Canada, they are able to connect and participate in the economic development of Canada and our society.
    I am thinking of the northern regions, where there is a lot of development going on and a lot of things are happening. A lot of first nations communities there could benefit if we could finally bridge that digital divide, but it will not happen just like that.
    We need direction, we need a strategy and we need the leadership of a government that has a long-term vision to bridge the digital divide. It is badly needed.
    There is also a knowledge divide. We need to fill the knowledge gap with respect to the Internet and technology to make sure that we know how to use it and that people have the knowledge to access and use it.
    What is very important is to have small and medium-sized businesses able to adopt technology to have their businesses on the Internet and doing business on the Internet. That is very important.
    I would like to give the House some statistics and quotes about technology adoption by businesses. Right now, at the industry committee, we continue to explore this issue, especially regarding small and medium-sized businesses. We have a government that is always at the forefront saying that it is for the economy and for building the economy, but its actions do not speak very loudly in helping the economy in a concrete manner and for the long term.
    One witness we heard at committee, from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said:
    A recent study by the Boston Consulting Group of G20 countries indicates that Canada is behind in the adoption of technology by business, and in the size of our Internet economy.
    We are not talking about the economy of the future but about the economy now, the knowledge economy. We are lagging behind. The witness said:
    The study concludes that this gap will widen over the coming years, meaning that Canada will lag behind its global competitors even more. The $4.2-trillion opportunity represented by the Internet will pass Canada by. This gap exists across the economy, across sectors, regardless of the size of the entity. [...] With our relatively small population and huge land mass the Canadian market is essentially California with a distribution challenge.
    How can the Conservative government pass on a $4.2-trillion opportunity represented by the Internet?
    The knowledge gap and the digital divide are all part of a digital strategy that is lacking from the government. The Conservatives are all for business and all for the economy, but they have no long-term strategy. The Minister of Industry is silent, even though report after report gives clues as to what that digital strategy could be.

  (1020)  

[Translation]

    The Canadian Federation of Independent Business also appeared and told us about the divide between consumers and small and medium-sized businesses. Consumers are very fond of online shopping, because it is very practical. More and more people are using this method to shop or want to shop online.
    However, the federation noted that small and medium-sized businesses have a hard time adopting the technologies that would allow them to grow.
    We are talking about technologies such as websites or online payment methods. The federation noted that there were problems with receiving electronic payments. You can have a nice website and try to adopt new technologies, but if you have problems with receiving payments when you are in business, things are not going very well.
    Although websites are quite affordable now, they are an investment and need to be maintained. More and more businesses have a website. However, not being able to receive payments is an obstacle to our economy, the development of small and medium-sized businesses and regional development. That is why this is so important.
    Small and medium-sized businesses create an awful lot of jobs. In fact, half of all jobs are created by small and medium-sized businesses. In addition, these are often local family businesses with deep roots in Canada. They are indeed part of our economy.
    According to the results of a survey of members, the obstacles were the following. A number of members said that the implementation cost did not warrant the investment, that electronic payments were not commonplace in their sector, that they did not want to change the way they did business in terms of payments, that they were concerned about online security, and so on.
    These barriers are the reason why small and medium-sized businesses are reluctant to embrace the technologies that could help them thrive. This is why our dissenting opinion spoke of the need for support from people who can introduce technologies within small and medium-sized businesses, focusing on both awareness and information.
    Our recommendations also mention that the government must play a leading role in the adoption of e-commerce. The Government of Canada may well be a service provider, but it also acquires services so it can keep working. It is both a service provider and a service consumer. The government needs to be a leader on this issue.
    Again, I call on the government to show leadership on the issue of a digital strategy that would include e-commerce and the famous spectrum auction I mentioned earlier, which has been delayed by rules that keep changing depending on the day and the Minister of Industry's mood. This also ends up creating a lot of uncertainty for telecommunication service providers.
    I chose to speak on this subject because there is no strategy, no clear signal from the government, no plan that would ensure this new 21st-century tool is available to small and medium-sized businesses across Canada. This will not be the last time I speak on this very important issue.

  (1025)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, there is a traditional auction company in my riding that has recently moved to an online platform. This company is a really good example of what we need more of in terms of small and medium enterprises adopting information communications technology. This company made the transition to an online platform, which now extends across Canada and into the United States, when it realized that the same people kept coming to its live auctions. Its customer base was an older demographic that was slowly shrinking. The company realized that it had to change the way it did business, because it was not viable in the long term, and that pushed it to move.
    When I look at other small and medium enterprises and why they are not investing more in technology and trying to expand their businesses, quite often I find that there is no fat left in management. Management is very lean and very busy all the time and does not have a chance to think about the long term. I am wondering if that should also be a component of a long-term strategy and whether the report from the committee includes that.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent question. That is why we need a digital strategy. My colleague's example is absolute proof of that.
    Small and medium enterprises need help learning about the different opportunities available to them. They must be made aware of this.
    The Canadian Federation of Independent Business poll indicates that, quite often, small and medium enterprises are not really aware of the programs that, seem to be offered by or through Industry Canada—it is not always clear. They are unable to access them because of their size and because it is complicated.
    It is very important to have that opportunity. This excellent point could be included in a future digital strategy.

  (1030)  

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her passionate speech about the committee report.
    She spoke at length about the absence of a digital strategy. That is why the official opposition had to prepare a dissenting report. Quite frankly, the government's lack of action on this matter is unbelievable.

[English]

    I would also like to congratulate my colleague on the quality of her English, which improves every time she speaks in the House of Commons. Bilingualism is certainly very important for us in the NDP.
    It is incredible that the government would be passing up the opportunity the Internet presents. My colleague said that there was a potential $3.4-trillion economic opportunity. The lack of leadership is unbelievable. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association came together and formed a policy on future cellphone towers, because the government will not do it. That is incredible leadership by them, but none by the government.
    The member brought up the 700 megahertz auction that is coming up. It is going to be important for the future of our wireless communications and digital economy. The Minister of Industry said that he had no plan to make sure that Canadians receive the kind of money they need. The last auction raised $4 billion. Scotiabank estimates that the current auction might raise $2.6 billion, but the minister himself said that there is only going to be a floor of $900 million. He has no plan to make sure that we invest in telecommunications infrastructure in rural areas to help small and medium businesses all across the country. I would like to ask my colleague to comment on that.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague, who is my right-hand man when it comes this massive industry file.
    He raised a very good point about the infamous rules that the Minister of Industry introduced for the all-important 700-megahertz spectrum auction. This highly coveted band, which some might call beach front property, will help us make great strides.
    However, the minister's dithering on some of the rules has caused delays in what was supposed to be done by this spring. That being said, it is clear that the objectives of these rules will not be met. There will be rollout conditions. Rural and remote regions are much smaller and less lucrative markets for certain companies. Nevertheless, some players are interested in developing those markets and have already made quite a bit of progress. However, the minister is turning a deaf ear and, in fact, does not seem to be listening to the needs of all Canadians.
    We can all agree that things are going quite well for people who live in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Those markets are well served by the companies, but our more remote and rural regions are not, which presents a challenge to the small and medium-sized businesses in those regions that want to attract customers, including tourists.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, that was an interesting discussion by the hon. member and I would like to build on it.
    I am sure she is aware that right now there is a knock-down, drag-out battle for existing and new, upcoming bandwidth. A simple question, at least simple for me, is will we have an oligopoly that will rule, continue to rule and even become worse in Canada on utilizing that bandwidth for many things, including Internet wireless and cellphone use? As we know now, one of the biggies is trying to buy out one of the small, struggling companies.
    Does she have an opinion or something to add at this incredibly important time about how to proceed and make sure that we do not end up with a small oligopoly controlling all of the bandwidth of Canada?

  (1035)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.
    I do not have a crystal ball, but various probable or possible takeovers were recently mentioned in The Globe and Mail and other newspapers. I am monitoring the situation, but I do not have a crystal ball. However, we are certainly keeping an eye on the market and the effects on competition and competitiveness.
    The hon. member for Pierrefonds—Dollard has just one minute for a short question.
    Mr. Speaker, it will not be easy to keep my question short.
    I would like to talk about the importance of a strategy. My colleague is not only suggesting practical measures that should be taken, but she is also opening up the debate on the importance of a strategy. The Conservative government often doles out money to score political points, without any overall vision or objectives. I could give plenty of examples in several areas.
    I know that my colleague thinks this vision is very important, and I would like to hear her thoughts on that.
    Mr. Speaker, this is an example of this government's lack of leadership in setting guidelines and developing a long-term strategy, whether it is a digital strategy or another kind of strategy. The government is always trying to score political points, but it should be developing a long-term strategic vision.
    It is my duty to interrupt the proceedings on the motion. Pursuant to order made Wednesday, May 22, 2013, the debate is deemed adjourned. Accordingly, the debate on the motion will be rescheduled for another sitting.

Petitions

  

Canada Post  

    Mr. Speaker, I am presenting a petition signed by many voters who oppose the closure of the Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue post office.
    This is the second time in less than a year that Canada Post has wanted to close a post office in a town in my riding. In this case, people are being asked to take their business to a postal outlet located in a pharmacy. The petitioners are concerned that the pharmacy does not have enough post office boxes.
    From now on, many residents, including students who may not necessarily have access to a car, will have to leave the Island of Montreal, cross over one or two bridges and go to Vaudreuil or Île-Perrot to deal with Canada Post.

[English]

41st General Election  

    Mr. Speaker, I have before me a petition signed by many Manitobans who have raised concerns regarding robocalls and issues relating to the election. They are asking that members of Parliament immediately enact legislation that would give Elections Canada the ability to restore public confidence in Canada's electoral system.

  (1040)  

[Translation]

Shark Finning  

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present a petition signed by many Canadians who want the importation of shark fins to be banned.
    More than 73 million sharks are killed every year just for their fins. This has a direct impact on endangered shark species. The practice of shark finning is cruel. It consists of cutting off the shark's fins and throwing the body back into the ocean. That is why many Canadians oppose the importation of shark fins.

[English]

The Environment  

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in the House to present a petition from residents in my riding of Saanich—Gulf Islands. All of the petitioners who have signed this petition live on Salt Spring Island.
    The petition is particularly timely as reports by the world meteorological organizations that monitor levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have recently stated we have overtaken the 400-parts-per-million concentration level, which means humanity has changed the chemistry of the atmosphere.
    The petitioners are calling upon the Government of Canada to reduce emissions consistent with what science requires, a 25% reduction below 1990 levels by 2020, moving to an 80% reduction in 1990 levels by 2050.

41st General Election  

    Mr. Speaker, the second petition is from residents from all over, including Toronto, Sarnia and other locations in Ontario. They are calling upon the House to launch a full investigative inquiry into the attempt to defraud voters that took place in many ridings across the country, the so-called robocall scandal, which has still not been subject to a complete investigation.

Experimental Lakes Area  

    Mr. Speaker, petitions regarding the Experimental Lakes Area just keep coming in. The issue will not go away.
    I have a number of petitions here from Winnipeg, Manitoba, from people who still hope the government will reverse the decision on the ELA and continue it as a federally funded program. Failing that, the petitioners would like to see research continue there, and would like the government to make sure that the transfer that has been talked about really occurs.

Questions on the Order Paper

    Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.
     The Speaker: Is that agreed?
     Some hon. members: Agreed.

GOVERNMENT ORDERS

[Government Orders]

Fair Rail Freight Service Act

    The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-52, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act (administration, air and railway transportation and arbitration), as reported (without amendment) from the committee.

[English]

Speaker's Ruling  

    There are three motions in amendment standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-52.

[Translation]

    Motions Nos. 1 to 3 will not be selected by the Chair, because they could have been presented in committee.

[English]

    Therefore, there being no motions at report stage, the House will now proceed without debate to the putting of the question on the motion to concur in the bill at report stage.

  (1045)  

Hon. Gordon O'Connor (for the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities)  
     moved that the bill be concurred in.

[Translation]

    Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    Some hon. members: On division.

    (Motion agreed to)

[English]

    When shall the bill be read the third time? By leave, now?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
Hon. Gordon O'Connor (for the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities)  
     moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.
    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in support of Bill C-52, the fair rail freight service act.
    Before I begin, I would like to thank the hon. Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities for his tremendous leadership on this particular issue. I would also like to thank the members of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, who have recently concluded a comprehensive study of Bill C-52 and referred it back to this House.
    The committee held hearings for the past two and a half months, hearing from dozens of witnesses: from the shippers representing the agriculture, mining, forestry and chemical industries, to the railways—CN, CP, the Railway Association of Canada and the short lines—as well as other important supply chain partners such as the Canadian port authorities. I am very pleased that the committee has examined this legislation so thoroughly and carefully considered all of the various issues.
    Our government remains focused on creating jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity, and that is what Bill C-52 is all about.
    Transportation plays a major role in supporting our government's economic agenda. It drives and attracts international trade, which makes it essential to ensuring Canada's economic competitiveness in the world. As this House knows, after years of neglect by the previous Liberal government, in 2008 our Conservative government launched the rail freight service review to get an accurate picture of how well the rail freight transportation system was working.
    The review panel recommended commercial solutions to address service issues, with legislation to be used as a backstop if necessary. In response, our government committed in March 2011 to table a bill on rail freight service, and Bill C-52 delivers on that promise.
    The fair rail freight service act would strongly deliver for shippers by giving them more leverage to negotiate service level agreements with the railways. This would expand the clarity, predictability and reliability they need to succeed in global markets.
    This bill would amend the Canada Transportation Act to give shippers the right to request a service level agreement from a rail company. In the event that rail companies and shippers were unable to reach an agreement on their own, the bill would create an arbitration process to establish the terms of service that a shipper is entitled to receive from the railway.
     Bill C-52 would grant the arbitrator the power to define, in a forward-looking manner, the railway's service obligations for a specific shipper. The arbitrator's decision would be backed by very strong enforcement tools to ensure compliance by the railways. In addition to the existing enforcement tools that already exist in the Canada Transportation Act, Bill C-52 proposes to give the Canadian Transportation Agency the power to impose administrative monetary penalties on railways to hold them accountable for their service obligations.
    During second reading, some of my opposition colleagues across the way raised some concerns about the bill that I would like to address.
    First, there were questions regarding the ability of shippers to trigger the arbitration process. Bill C-52 is very clear that the shipper would trigger the arbitration process, not the railway, and the threshold to access arbitration would be quite low. To begin the process, a shipper would only need to demonstrate to the Canadian Transportation Agency that an effort had been made to reach a service level agreement commercially and that a 15-day notice had been served on the railway prior to the arbitration request. Then the shipper would present to the agency the issues he or she would like resolved and ask that these be referred to arbitration. In short, the shipper would get to frame the issues that were submitted for arbitration.
    Second, some opposition members raised concerns that the level of the administrative monetary penalty would be too low. The level of the penalty would be significant: up to $100,000 per violation per arbitrated service level agreement. This amount is four times the level of other administrative monetary penalties in the act. If a railway had multiple violations, it could be fined many multiples of $100,000. This would be a very strong enforcement tool.

  (1050)  

    I would also like to speak on issues raised at committee hearings. As I mentioned earlier, during the hearings on Bill C-52, the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities heard testimony from everyone wanting to share their views on Bill C-52: shippers, railways, ports and many associations that lobby for rail freight shipping in Canada. Overall, it is clear that shippers support Bill C-52. They overwhelmingly said that this legislation would give them more leverage in their negotiations with the railways.
    There were some concerns raised by my opposition colleagues at committee, which I would also like to address. Some questioned whether force majeure clauses and performance metrics are captured in the scope of what an arbitrator could impose in a service level agreement. Transport Canada officials testified before the committee and made it very clear that both force majeure and performance metrics are included in the bill.
    The shippers suggested some amendments that the committee ultimately judged, after careful consideration, as unacceptable. There were two reasons for this. First, many of the amendments were contrary to the approach to arbitration in Bill C-52, which would give the arbitrator broad discretion to impose the right service contract for a particular situation, in recognition of the fact that each situation is different and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. It is important for the House to understand that legislation is a very blunt instrument and rail freight service issues are often extremely complex. Therefore it is essential to ensure the arbitrator would have enough flexibility to impose a service contract that made sense, given the unique circumstances of each case. For example, shippers asked for changes to the level of service provision that would prescribe detailed service obligations for railways. This would limit the arbitrator's ability to consider the circumstances of each shipper and establish service agreements on a case-by-case basis. Under Bill C-52, the arbitrator would still be able to include every service element a shipper could ask for.
    Second, some of the shipper amendments were not possible because of inherent legal risks associated with the proposals, which in some cases would be unprecedented concepts in Canadian law. The committee examined this very carefully. The shippers sought amendments to give the arbitrator the ability to impose pre-established damages or penalties that the railway would pay in the event of a hypothetical service breach in the future. This concept is not consistent with the way damages are handled in contractual law and it is not consistent with the role of regulatory agencies, which is to enforce compliance after an actual breach, not before a potential breach. It is also full of legal risks and would limit the ability of shippers to seek actual damages in court after a service breach.
    Also, shippers asked that the arbitrator not take into account the railway's obligation to other shippers and users of the network. It is very clear that the way a railway serves one shipper will affect the service to another. That is the nature of the railway business. It would be completely irresponsible for the arbitrator to be denied the ability to consider the railway's network and its service obligations to other shippers. Such a proposal could have devastating consequences for our entire rail freight system, harming all shippers and threatening our economy. This is why it is important for Bill C-52 to require the arbitrator to consider the rail network and the railway's obligation to other shippers.
    The railways strongly maintain that the bill is not required, given recent improvements to rail service. They warned about unintended consequences of regulation and the potential negative effects of government intervention on the efficiency of the supply chain. They are opposed to the entire premise of this legislation.
    That said, the railways also requested amendments at committee stage, which were carefully considered. Ultimately, their amendments were also determined to be unnecessary. For example, the railways proposed to limit access to arbitration to only captive shippers, those that have no alternative means of transporting their goods. This amendment would unduly restrict access to service arbitration for shippers, reduce shippers' ability to establish service terms in a timely manner to address their business needs and conflict with existing shipper protection clauses in the act that are available for all shippers.

  (1055)  

    The railways also proposed an amendment to completely eliminate the administrative monetary penalties provision in Bill C-52. Again, this proposed amendment was rejected by the committee because it is important to ensure that the Canadian Transportation Agency would have a strong enforcement tool to force the railways to comply with the arbitrated service level agreements if necessary.
     The testimony heard at committee clearly demonstrated the extent to which shippers and railways have very different perspectives on these issues. This underscores the need for Parliament to assess their proposals with a view to ensuring that the fair rail freight service act would maintain its original focus, which would be to ensure that shippers would have the leverage they need to secure service level agreements from the railways, but do it in a way that would not undermine the efficiency and performance of the rail transportation system as a whole. Bill C-52 would do exactly that. It would support shippers' needs for commercially negotiated service agreements and would provide a legislative backstop if those negotiations were to fail. I believe the bill would strike the right balance for our entire Canadian economy.
    I also would like to speak to those benefits to the economy. By working together, Canada's railways, farmers and many others who harvest and ship our natural resources have helped to build our great country. Beyond their own businesses, they drive economic growth and create jobs right across Canada. However, those in agriculture and resource production depend on efficient, effective and reliable rail service to move their products to customers in Canada and around the world. For example, last year Canadian farms shipped more than $3 billion in agricultural products by rail. By ensuring more reliable shipping from gate to plate, as they say, Bill C-52 would help strengthen the livelihood of those who produce food in this country.
    Before this legislation was tabled, the shippers asked the government to include three essential elements in the bill for it to be successful. They were, one, a right to a service level agreement with the railways; two, a process to establish a service level agreement when commercial negotiations fail; and three, consequences for non-performance on the part of the railways. I am proud to say that Bill C-52 would deliver all three of these elements.
    The range of support for Bill C-52 is broad. Consider these comments:
    The Coalition of Rail Shippers said, “Bill C-52 meets the fundamental requests of railway customers for commercial agreements”.
    Greg Stewart of Sinclar Group Forest Products Ltd. told the committee on March 7, 2013, that the proposed legislation was “...a significant improvement and will reduce the risk” for shippers.
    Jim Facette, CEO of the Canadian Propane Association, told the committee:
    We believe this piece of legislation...provides a very good balance between railways and shippers. We're not coming today with any changes at all. Finding a balance is very, very difficult.... For us, it contains all the mechanisms and measures we requested some years ago: a right to a level of service agreement, an arbitration process, and administrative monetary penalties.
    Mr. Facette also said that Bill C-52:
is viewed by the propane industry as a balanced approach to managing relations between railways and shippers, and the CPA urges Parliament to pass the legislation in a timely manner.
    Also at committee, representatives from the ports expressed strong support for this bill. Mr. Peter Xotta, vice-president of planning and operations at Port Metro Vancouver, said:
...Bill C-52 is extremely important to Port Metro Vancouver.... Clearly, the establishment of service agreements through normal commercial processes should be encouraged, with arbitration as a last resort.
    The Prince Rupert Port Authority noted that it:
...supports what we believe is the principal object of this piece of legislation, which is to ensure that there are agreements in place that provide clarity, transparency, and certainty both to shippers and to rail lines regarding the obligations of both parties in their roles in the supply chain.
    The fair rail freight service act would help build a more prosperous economy. It would create a strong incentive for both shippers and railways to work together to negotiate service agreements commercially, and it would create a fast and efficient arbitration process if these negotiations were to fail to achieve the clarity and predictability that shippers need.

  (1100)  

    In conclusion, let me say to my colleagues in this House that we need to pass Bill C-52 as soon as possible to ensure that our rail system and Canada's economy are on the right track.
    The proposed legislation would deliver significantly for shippers and would fulfill our government's promise to create a legislative backstop for fair rail freight service issues. However, well beyond the shippers, I would like to stress that the real winner would be the entire Canadian economy. By strengthening our agricultural and resource producers, the bill would build prosperity for many of the people we represent.
    I call upon all members of the House to support Bill C-52, expedite its passage through the remaining parliamentary stages and refer it to the other place without delay.
    Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague's comments. While it is clear that the bill would move the yardsticks somewhat for the rail shippers, it is also clear that the rail shippers themselves are not satisfied with the final result.
    In particular, the rail shippers themselves feel that the economic might of the rail companies, one of which made $2.7 billion last year, would not actually be deterred in any way by an administrative monetary penalty of $100,000, which in fact is less than 1/1000th of a per cent of the earnings of one of these companies.
    Also, they are concerned that there is no mechanism in the bill for them to be able to avoid suing these rail companies should there be a breach, whereas in labour arbitrations and in labour collective agreements, there is always a way for the smaller player, the individual, to take on the bigger player, the employer. That is absent from the bill, and we believe it to be a very large failing.
     I wonder if my colleague would comment on that failing.
    Mr. Speaker, the administrative monetary penalty in this bill is actually quite significant, because it is not a one-time $100,000 penalty. The administrative penalty could be applied many times over the course of a service level agreement if the railway did not fulfill its obligations.
    It is also important to note that this particular act, and I spoke of this, would not take away the ability for a shipper to go through the normal court process if it feels that a service level agreement has not been fulfilled and that has incurred financial costs. The shipper would still have the ability to go through the courts to seek a finding to force the railway companies to pay those final bills.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for his speech. We work together on the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, and we had the pleasure of studying this issue at a number of meetings.
    The Conservatives have a habit of coming to committee with preconceived notions, and I find that disappointing. They do not really listen to witnesses. They do not ask questions to determine if the witnesses' testimony is relevant or not because they follow their ideology and their minds are made up. Pardon my language, but they just do not seem to give a damn.
    The Coalition of Rail Shippers proposed six minor amendments that, in my opinion, would really help them. The coalition believes that even though the bill helps them and is a step in the right direction, it gives far more support to CN and CP.
    I am wondering if my colleague is able to list three of those amendments. I sometimes get the impression that the Conservatives did not even necessarily listen to them, let alone really study them. Could he list three of the amendments and tell me why he voted against them?

  (1105)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the hon. member's comments about our having preconceived notions is completely false. As a member of the committee, she would know that we ask many tough questions of both the shippers and the railways in asking them to back up their requests for amendments.
    We talked very closely about many of the considerations they brought forward, and we addressed them specifically in committee with the witnesses who came before us.
    One of the specific examples was the desire of the shippers to have the network not be looked at as part of the arbitration process. They did not want the arbitrator to look at the whole network as part of the process. If we do not look at the whole network and we tell the shippers that the rail freight company only has to look at their particular issue and does not have to worry about the big picture of shifting freight across Canada for multiple shippers but just their particular issue, we would have a situation in which a shipper would be tying up the resources of the railway for an undetermined and unlimited amount of time and affecting other shippers because they would not be able to get their goods to market.
    Would it be fair that one shipper could basically hold many other shippers across Canada hostage? It is wrong, and it could be a complete collapse of the network if we allowed that to happen. That is one example in which we listened very closely and closely questioned the witnesses who appeared. We closely questioned the shippers.
     We did go through a deliberate process. We looked very closely at the request for amendments, and we determined that those amendment requests were actually contrary to what they were trying to accomplish, and were actually even dangerous for themselves in many items. That was also pointed out very clearly by Transport Canada officials. It was one of those situations in which they needed to be aware of what they were asking for, because they might not be getting what they thought they were getting.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives obviously have a hard time understanding that rail transportation is a public service and one that is essential to the Canadian economy.
    How can this government hope to ensure—with this incomplete bill that provides only some solutions—that our natural resources will be developed and exported in a timely manner and at prices that will help the economy grow?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, it is refreshing to hear somebody from the NDP talking about resource development being necessary in this country, because so often NDP members stand in the House and say that we should not develop anything and should shut down all resource development. It is refreshing at least to hear that they have a desire to have resource development in our country. We hope they will get on board with some of our resource development initiatives.
    It is also important to remember that the railways are an essential service. That is why the government did a review. We looked at the report and the review very closely and came up with a solution that serves the railways so that they can continue to serve all shippers across the country.
    This legislation always has been considered as a backstop. We would love to see no arbitration cases ever come out of the legislation. We have now given an incentive and a little more strength to the shippers to be able to go to the railways and negotiate commercial solutions and commercial service level agreements. That is ultimately the goal of the legislation.
    I believe very strongly it will deliver on that goal and I look forward to seeing the bill passed by this House and moved to the other House very quickly.
    Mr. Speaker, on this side we want to see resource development that takes our environment into account and creates jobs here in Canada for Canadians instead of flushing them down a pipeline to the United States to the tune of 40,000 lost jobs.
    On this issue, 80% of the service commitments for agricultural rail customers are currently not being met. As well, 80% of the shippers are not satisfied with the services they are receiving. The shippers are so desperate for anything at this point that they welcome even the watered down and weak protections offered by the bill, which would be stronger if the government had listened to our recommendations in committee.
    A few minutes ago the member mentioned that they had recourse to the courts. Of course this is important and valuable, but is that the government's solution—that companies should have to go to the courts? Why not write a bill that would not force shippers to have to go to the courts, spend money and waste the time of the court in trying to deal with legitimate issues?

  (1110)  

    Mr. Speaker, they do have recourse to the courts, and that is something that is a final backstop. The administrative monetary penalties in the act are very strong, and the railways will be looking at them very closely. No railway that has to report to its shareholders wants to be paying fines in the millions of dollars over the course of the year for a failure to deliver on an agreement that it made. There is great protection in here for the shippers, and it allows the railways to continue to operate so that we can deliver the goods around the world for Canadians.
    Mr. Speaker, for many years now, whether it be grain farmers, forestry companies or mining companies, what they have wanted to do is to ship their products from coast to coast to coast so that they could get loaded into a container and be exported. Eighty per cent of the shippers have been saying that the service that they are getting from rail companies is not satisfactory.
    Why is that? It is because in Canada there is really a monopoly of service. CN and CP control all the tracks. They do not compete with each other, and there are no other choices. Yes, perhaps shippers could use trucks, but imagine large amounts of coal or large numbers of logs being shipped by truck. It is just not feasible.
    Many grain, lentil or soybean farmers and many in the forestry industry are saying they need to get their products to the coast on time. They need to have advance warning if a train will not be coming on time. They also need to be assured that if the service is not satisfactory, there would be some kind of refund or compensation. If not, there would be a complete imbalance of power in that the rail companies could say whatever they want, charge whatever they want, deliver whatever kind of service they want and not worry about losing customers. The market is completely skewed. We all firmly believe that competition matters and that shippers should get the right price, but in this case there is no competition at all. There is a complete imbalance.
    What is happening is that sometimes with no or very short advance warning, the train does not show up on time, or if it does show up, it does not deliver the products on time. As a result, the grain rots. Sometimes the company hires a large group of people to get the grain, or whatever product they are trying to ship, ready to be shipped, and the trains do not arrive. What do they do? Some of the companies, rather than booking one container, will book several, one before and one after, because if the products do not show up on time, they do not get their product exported properly. As a result, millions of dollars are lost because of poor rail freight service.
    Successive governments have said they understood the problem and would do something about it. They talked a lot about it, yet nothing has been done.
    The Conservatives promised that action would be taken. They first had a stakeholder panel and did a study. That study consulted everyone, and it took many years. As the report came forward, the rail companies said they did not need legislation; they would provide good service, and we should not worry about it. The Conservative government at the time agreed, but suggested a mediation process, the idea being to see how it went and then, if that did not work out, it would introduce legislation. Most of the shippers agreed to give it a try, although they did not think it would work because of the complete imbalance of power.
     The Conservatives then made a promise in the last election that action would be taken. Now, two and a half years later, we finally see a bill in front of us.

  (1115)  

    Last year I got very impatient, so I established a private member's bill. I took the stakeholders' report and all of the recommendations in it and put them into a private member's bill. The shippers looked at the private member's bill and thought it was a model for what should be done and said that if the government were to take action, that should be the kind of legislation that should be made into law.
    Unfortunately, we have this bill in front of us. This bill is a start. However, it does not include a model of what a service agreement should be, which means that companies that have no service agreements have to start with a blank slate. Instead of having a framework, with a model, they have no guidelines and have to start from square one with no template to back up their right to service agreements. That is very unfortunate. Negotiations need flexibility, but they should not have to start with a blank piece of paper. Optional elements should include performance measures, communication protocols and consequences for non-performance. None of that is in this bill, which is unfortunate.
    This bill would only cover those that have no service agreements. Any companies that have service agreements with CN and CP would not be covered, unfortunately. In terms of conflict resolution, the shippers want a process like arbitration that covers not only negotiations for new contracts but also violations of existing contracts. Companies could have existing contracts, but if punishments are not spelled out, how would those contracts be honoured? Conflict resolution has to be accessible and affordable for all shippers. Unfortunately, this bill made it very complex. For some of the smaller companies in the forest industry and farmers, it is going to be very difficult to access because of the process and the red tape involved in this bill.
    One of the critical points shippers have been talking about is that there has to be compensation for non-performance. If their products are not delivered on time, there have to be consequences. Unfortunately, there are none. Shippers need to be compensated for contract violations, not just when an arbitration agreement is reached. Any penalties have to go straight to the shippers, not to the federal government.
    What does this bill do? This bill says that if CN or CP violate a contract, and compensation is awarded to the shipper and not to CN or CP, then they should pay a fine. I think the fine is something like $100,000. The amount of $100,000 is too small, and the penalty does not go to the customers. It goes to the government. That does not make sense. If I am a customer, go into an arbitration process and prove to Transport Canada that the company was not providing good service to me, the customer, one would think that the reward would go to the customer. In this case, no, it goes to the government. In some ways, that is a bit of a tax grab.
    Bill C-52 covers only new agreements and not existing ones, as I said earlier. This bill would unfairly exclude shippers from any protection and conflict resolution measures. Instead, they would be stuck with continued contract violations, with retribution.
    I heard my Conservative colleague say that they could always go to court. Of course they could always go to court. Why do we need a government, then? They could go to court now, of course. The problem is that the court process is long, involved, and expensive. Companies would end up spending most of the money on lawyers rather than on producing better products for their customers.

  (1120)  

    What does all of this mean? It means that a lot of Canadian customers, whether they are logging companies or grain farmers, are saying that it is hurting their exports. It is hurting Canada's productivity. It is costing our economy millions of dollars. Because they have no say over how the pricing works, they were hoping that this bill would not just talk about the service but would talk about the pricing.
    We could have the best service, but if the price is too high and farmers cannot afford to ship their grain, what good is it? Unfortunately, that key component is missing from the bill in front of us. It deals only with service, service contracts and service agreements but not with pricing. That big chunk still has to be tackled through the Canada Transportation Act.
    We need to know what fair pricing is. Right now, we do not know, and the government has not tracked it. We also need to know what kind of performance standards should be acceptable. There needs to be a model so that people could learn from best practices. That, too, is missing.
    Yes, the shippers were happy that there was finally some kind of legislation, weak though it is. They want it passed. However, the coalition of all rail shippers came together and said that they wanted a series of amendments. They did a lot of good work. They came to the transport committee and they proposed six areas to work on.
    They want to tackle the problem of what should be in the service level agreements. They want to make sure that they are legally protected. They want to allow shippers to include arbitration conflict resolution in service level agreements for non-performance. They want protection from additional service charges. That is important, because we can have an agreement, but if service charges are laid on all of a sudden, it is very difficult for shippers to plan ahead.
    They want to narrow the arbitration to what the shippers' complaints are about and not allow the rail companies to broaden the scope of the arbitration. It is hard to believe that this bill, which is supposed to support the shippers, would allow shippers to put in their complaint after which CN and CP could say that they too have things to put on the table, which they could do. The shippers are slightly worried about that. I do not blame them. It is almost like protection against retaliation. If they dare challenge the CN and CP monopoly and dare to say that the service is not up to par and they take it to arbitration, CN and CP could retaliate and cost them a lot of money.
    Remember, CN had a $3-billion profit last year, so it is not doing too badly. CP will also begin to have a profit margin.
    The shippers' last recommendation was to lighten the burden of proof on shippers to demonstrate that they are captive during the arbitration.
    Those are the six recommendations they had. They provided detailed support and documentation. They looked at the bill very carefully. They hired lawyers and different companies, whether they were logging and forestry industries, Canada Post, or the coalition itself, which all came in and said that this would make the bill much stronger.

  (1125)  

    Unfortunately, without much debate, without much deliberation, the Conservative majority on the transport committee said no and voted down all of the recommendations. That is really unfortunate. In some ways it is a betrayal of the good faith of these companies. They have been waiting for years for action. They have been waiting for legislation. They have been very patient. They waited for over a year for the negotiator, Mr. Dinning, to be appointed. They waited a year, because the Conservatives were not doing anything. Right after the election, the Conservatives had a blueprint showing how to go forward, but they did nothing. A year later, they appointed Mr. Dinning. The report took a long time, and this legislation has taken a long time.
    Flawed as the legislation is, we as New Democrats support the bill, because it is better than nothing, but there is a lot of room for improvement.
    Ultimately, Canada needs two pieces of legislation. The first piece of legislation would regulate and would clearly indicate to CN and CP what the performance standards should be, what the arbitration process should be, what kind of service contract should be given to the shippers, and what the results, the consequences, the penalty would be if the company failed to satisfy customers.
    We also need a second piece of legislation that would provide a level playing field and deal with pricing. How much should it really be? How much should it cost? What would be the upper and the lower range? We need to let the market dictate pricing, but because the market is completely skewed right now, there is no competition. The government needs to step in and provide the support Canadian companies are desperately looking for.
    All of the products Canada exports require a good transportation system, whether one is a small soybean farmer or one is shipping lentils or logs outside Canada. More and more oil is being shipped by rail. Rail service is good for the environment. It is an efficient way of moving things. We would prefer to see more train service rather than more trucks. As a result, the NDP believes that the Canada Transportation Act must be amended so that there is a level playing field for all shippers.
    We support the bill, but we wish the Conservatives would listen to their constituents and these companies a lot more.

  (1130)  

    Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the member could provide comment on the shippers' expectations since 2008, when they expected the government to take some action on the issue. It was a couple of years later that the panel ultimately pointed out the degree to which some legislation needed to be brought in. Initially it was expected that something was going to be put in place that would allow shippers to be on a more level playing field. Today shippers are disappointed that the government has not gone far enough.
    I wonder if my colleague could provide some specific comment with regard to those expectations.
    Mr. Speaker, the shippers have been voicing their discontent since 2007. A talk-it-out-and-wait tactic was employed, starting with the promise of an expert panel review. The freight rail service review started in 2008 and the independent expert panel's final report was tabled in early 2011. There were a lot of pent-up expectations. In the fall of 2011, the Conservatives started a mediation process. It did not yield any results. CN and CP were unwilling to make any meaningful concessions. The mediation process was led by retired Conservative politician, University of Calgary Chancellor Jim Dinning. It failed. Mr. Dinning released a report in June 2012. Then the Minister of Transport promised legislation in the fall.
    We gave the government a model piece of legislation using the expert panel's recommendations. Perhaps the CN and CP lobbying effort was too powerful and as a result they were successful. There were dozens of documented visits to government offices. A media campaign undertaken by CN showed its determination to keep the status quo.
    It is quite unfortunate that we have such a watered-down bill as a result. There is massive disappointment in the industry. However, they see it as a first step. Hopefully, there will be better legislation in the future when the NDP form the government in 2015.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank the opposition critic for her support of the bill. As she mentioned it is an important bill and we have had a lot of consultation with respect to it.
     I would also note that it is supported by Pulse Canada, the Grain Growers of Canada, the Forest Products Association of Canada, the Western Barley Growers Association, the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada, the Western Grain Elevator Association, the Fertilizer Institute, the canola growers, the western Canadian grain growers. There is a very broad level of support for this bill.
    I am happy that the NDP members are supporting it. I wonder if the critic will work with her colleagues to help them understand just how important the bill is and if we can expect them to work with us to get the bill passed as soon as possible.

  (1135)  

    Mr. Speaker, after we have been pushing the minister for five years, since I became the transport critic, I have personally been writing letters, bills and working with the Coalition of Rail Shippers. I have met with all of them and they do support it. On February 20 they provided a comprehensive list of recommendations, not just for the NDP but for every member of Parliament in every party. It lists the problem, why it is a problem and then a fix. It was very clear. They took the bill, dissected it and made very clear recommendations. None of what they wanted went into it. They do want some action. However, they certainly want to be listened to.
    One aspect of the consultation process is to hear and listen. It makes no sense to consult and then not listen to any of the recommendations. These shippers came to the transport committee and we consulted with them, but none of their recommendations were accepted, which is unfortunate.
    Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Trinity—Spadina for her excellent work on this bill and on all of the shippers' concerns.
     I would note that very recently, in fact, there have been difficulties with shipments out of this country to other countries, which is indicative, I think, of the problems that we have with the bill. Bill C-52 corrects some of the problems, but it does not correct all of the problems. The shippers are not universally happy with the results.
    The NDP agrees that we are a trading nation. However, if, as a trading nation, Canada has an inefficient and outdated service model for delivering goods to its ports, we cannot compete and we will lose in the overall trading field in the rest of the world.
    I wonder if the member would like to comment further on our position in the world with regard to trade when it comes to things like Bill C-52 and our attempts to make it better.
    Mr. Speaker, to have a successful export policy, and for Canada to have a good reputation around the world as being a country that knows how to export, we have to deliver products on time. We cannot say that we will send a number of containers of logs or tonnes of grain, but then have the containers not show up on time. Therefore, it is critically important for our export market to have a good transportation system.
    Unfortunately, a fundamental weakness with Bill C-52 is with the outline of the arbitration process, which could not only be too expensive for some shippers, but the option of arbitration is only available when contract negotiations fail and not in the case of violations to existing service level agreements.
    For example, if CN promised a certain performance standard through the service agreement and violated that service agreement, that should automatically trigger arbitration. However, in this case, the bill does not say that. The bill says that one can only go into the arbitration process when the contract negotiation fails, which could take a long time, could be very costly and it is not exactly what the shippers want.

  (1140)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, CN was privatized in 1995. Would it not have made more sense, at that time, to establish a policy to protect Canada's economic interests instead of just sacrificing a public asset to neo-liberalism?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, that is a perfect question.
    Yes, that would have been the time to set all the legislation in place. It would also have been the time to make sure that there was VIA Rail legislation, which we still do not have. As a result, passenger rail service is declining at a time when other countries around the world are increasing their passenger rail services.
     Remember, more than 70% of all goods in Canada are shipped by rail. If we do not have good rail service, we do not have good export capabilities.
    Mr. Speaker, it is important that we recognize the true reason we have this bill before us today. It is not because the government wants to provide good, sound legislation. Yes, there is some reason to be encouraged by the legislation we are debating today, but let there be no doubt that the government has fallen short. The bottom line is that there is some legislation likely to be passed at some point in the near future that would improve upon the system, but it not something that has been driven by the government.
    Virtually since 2007, maybe even a year or two prior, possibly during the organizing of shippers, stakeholders who have an interest and felt that there needed to be something done in terms of legislation, ultimately came together. They started not only to put pressure on government, but also to ensure that opposition parties were in that loop, so that shippers and all Canadians would benefit by good, sound legislation.
    When we think of those stakeholders, individuals or organizations, we are talking about industries such as agriculture, forestry, minerals, chemicals, fertilizers, oil and gas, and of course, our manufactured goods. These are all critical industries from coast to coast to coast that need to be recognized in terms of their valuable economic impact for all Canadians. It has taken years now for the government to take action. It is safe to say that the government could have acted on this issue much more quickly. That is something that I would ultimately argue. I would point out a couple of thoughts in terms of the legislation, but let there be no doubt that the only reason why we have it today is because of the efforts of those industries and their appeal to government and opposition parties that we need to get this legislation not only introduced, but ultimately passed.
    I would then argue that we had a wonderful opportunity to deal with the issue in such a fashion that it could have made even that much more of a positive impact. In fact, when the government first introduced the legislation, there was quite a sense of yes, finally it is there. Then there is an expectation, especially when it deals with the service level agreement, which was absolutely critical in terms of seeing any type of legislation brought to the floor of the House. That was a critical and absolute necessity in order to move forward.
    The government has now had ample time to come up with the single, largest, most important component, the service agreement. Even though it is in the legislation and that is why initially there was a great deal of support for it, a lot of that support has dwindled. It is not as enthusiastic as it could have been or should have been. That is because we start to see that the government really did nowhere near what it could have done in introducing this legislation.
    I know the deputy leader of the Liberal Party on numerous occasions, whether in question period or different addresses to the House, has talked about the importance of our railways and the services they provide, as no doubt all members of Parliament will.

  (1145)  

    I know the member for Wascana has felt very passionate about this issue and has done a fabulous job in representing the position of the Liberal Party of Canada on this. We have emphasized how critically important it is that we get this legislation. While the government sat and waited, the member for Wascana continued to raise the profile of this issue, whether it was inside or outside the House because we recognized what the industry stakeholders had said.
    If members want take a look at those industries, some of which I listed a few minutes ago, they could easily understand why it is such a critically important issue. We are talking about the transportation of goods not only from east to west but also from north to south and around the world through our ports. It is critically important to each and every person who calls Canada their home that we do the right thing.
    One could question why it took the government as long as it did to bring this legislation forward. Suffice to say, we do see it as a step forward, and therefore the Liberal Party will in fact support Bill C-52.
    However, if the government had listened to what took place in committee, let there be no doubt, we would have better legislation. At the report stage, the deputy leader of the Liberal Party tried to bring in three amendments that would have dramatically improved the legislation.
     The government has been afforded the opportunity to support good amendments that have been brought forward but, for whatever reason, it has chosen not to. I suspect there might be a philosophical twist to it that comes out of the Reform Party days, where the Conservative Party originated, which does not necessarily speak to the interests of all Canadians, but rather to a specific group of individuals in Canada. One could question why the government did not recognize the importance of those amendments and allow them to pass.
    I would like to make reference to one specific amendment. This was made an hour or so ago, and was yet another attempt, not the first attempt, by the deputy leader of the Liberal Party to improve the legislation. It was to amend clause 11. We wanted to add the following to paragraph (2):
    For greater certainty, nothing in this Act prevents the arbitrator from including in his or her decision terms providing for compensation payments to be made by the railway company to the shipper in the event of losses incurred by the shipper as a result of any failure by the railway company to fulfill its service obligations as provided under section 169.31.
    This is not the only time the deputy leader of the Liberal Party has attempted to get that included in the legislation. An attempt was also made in the committee stage.
    One has to question the government about why it would not. Is it not concerned about the shipper? All this amendment would have done was allowed the discretion of the arbitrator to say that given what had taken place, some of that money should be allowed to directly flow to the shipper. After all, in most cases if not all, the arbitration process will be triggered by the shipper. The individual that is most handicapped, the individual that is not on the level playing field, is the shipper.

  (1150)  

    It is a legitimate question to pose for the government. If it recognized the efforts that the shipper had put in, not only the preparation in the advocacy role of the legislation and the literally hundreds, if not thousands, of collective hours that would be put into this whole process, why then was the government not prepared to listen to what was said? Why does the government, this Reform-Conservative government, not see the value of at least allowing this amendment to move forward?
    At the end of my comments I will be provided the opportunity to answer questions. I would welcome any government member to stand in his or her place to explain to the shippers why they should not be allowed any sort of compensation directly to them from an arbitrator of some sort that would allow them to be compensated. I would have thought this would be a positive thing.
    Members do not have to just listen to the Liberal Party. I suspect that if members listened to some of the individuals who presented to the panel or at the committee stage when the bill was in committee, they would have heard the same sort of response, the response that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the amendment that had been suggested by the member for Wascana.
    The Liberal Party will support Bill C-52, but the government has made a mistake by not going far enough. We are not too late to improve the system, if the government really and truly wants to. We have seen this in the past.
     The member for Wascana, on behalf of the Liberal Party, introduced a few amendments, three of which we attempted to bring in at report stage on this bill. It is not too late. The bill still has to, technically, go through the Senate. We have seen this before when the member for Mount Royal, the critic from the Liberal Party, made amendments in the House and they were soundly rejected. However, then the Senate, in its wisdom, was able to incorporate virtually the identical amendments that strengthened the legislation.
    I am an optimist. I hope the government will not only look at the amendment that we attempted to move today, but will consider some of those other amendments that would ensure a level playing field for the different stakeholders to which this legislation hopes to appeal. I hope the government is listening on that point because it is still not too late.
    The railway freight review process really began in 2008. There was a commitment in 2008; then a panel would have been appointed in 2009, and then we had the report in 2010.

  (1155)  

     One of the most important aspects of the report, which I took note of, was a statement that shippers were getting the railway services they had ordered approximately 50% of the time. Imagine shippers knowing that once they deliver their product to where it needs to be picked up by the rail line to get it to its destination, 50% of the time something goes wrong so they cannot make a commitment. That is very telling.
     The rail line companies have had plenty of opportunity over time, in a good faith manner, to resolve the many different outstanding issues. However, if I am a producer of commodity X and can get my product to the station, but 50% of the time there will not be a car even though it was pre-booked, what do I do, as a shipper? For shippers, that is a truly amazing situation. This is one of the reasons this legislation is important. It has raised issues of that nature.
    We recognize the right to have a service level agreement. These service level agreements are absolutely critical for the government to have incorporated into the legislation. If we talk to the stakeholders, what we will find is that an unlevel playing field allows them very limited flexibility in competition. The competition is even becoming that much scarcer. There is the whole issue of rail line abandonment and improvement of our rail lines. I could probably spend a great deal of time talking about that.
    In some regions in Canada, particularly in our Prairies, it is amazing how the concentration of rail lines has taken place. There was a time when we could travel all over the province of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and a good part of Alberta, and we would see all sorts of rail lines that would feed into the main line. They would go to places such as locations of commodities in our agricultural community. We would have many of these wooden elevators seen in many pictures and postcards of that rural lifestyle that was there. We have seen a much higher concentration of rail service taking place in selected areas, which many would argue would make it a whole lot more cost efficient, but none of those cost benefits seem to go down to the producer or to the shippers. However, that is an argument for which I would need an extra 20 minutes or so.
    The government has really lost an opportunity to do the right thing, a better job. That is what the deputy leader of the Liberal Party attempted to do.

  (1200)  

    We can make this legislation better, and if we did that, not only would shippers benefit but, I would argue, all people who call Canada their home from coast to coast to coast would directly benefit if the government were prepared to do the right thing and accept amendments to this legislation. At the end of the day, it would be great to have a piece of legislation that would do so much more for our communities than it might be doing.
    Mr. Speaker, every time the member speaks, he brings in the Reform Party of Canada as if it was a disease of some sort. Somehow the millions of Canadians in western Canada who voted for the Reform Party in 1993 and 1997, the Alliance Party in 2000 and 2004 and then the Conservative Party in 2006, 2008 and 2011 were not smart and their votes are meaningless. This is something that permeates the Liberal mindset. Western Canadians just are not smart enough, according to the Liberal Party of Canada. We hear that from its leader.
    When we talked about liberating western Canadian grain farmers, the western Canadian grain farmer was not smart enough and the Liberal Party knew better than they did. It continues on in every single thing it does. It is an attitude that western Canadians and anybody who thinks differently from the Liberal Party must be wrong. It is why the Liberals went from here to there and now to a small corner in the House of Commons: because they are arrogant, they do not care about the people of this country and they always think they are right. It kills them that the NDP is the official opposition because they do not deserve to be there and Liberals are smarter than everybody else.
    They do not know about trade. In the years they were in government in this country, did they ever sign a trade deal? No. Did they ever fix the rail service? No. They talk a good game, but when they have the opportunity, they do nothing. They do absolutely nothing.
    Mr. Speaker, I find the member's perspective very interesting. I could take a look at what Pierre Elliott Trudeau did for western Canada and compare that to what the current Prime Minister has done. Has the member ever heard of the Canadian Wheat Board? Did he ever represent what wheat farmers were saying about what the Conservative government did with the Wheat Board? We had a law that said the prairie grain farmers would have a plebiscite. What did the Reform-Conservative Prime Minister say? He completely forgot about the law. He said we did not have to have a referendum, even though he knew a majority of the prairie farmers wanted to retain the Wheat Board. He was too scared to allow that referendum to occur, because if he had allowed it, he knew he would have lost, and he did not want to lose. He wanted to put his own philosophical Reform agenda ahead of what the prairie grain farmers really wanted.
    That is the reality of it. The member can try to spin it any way he wants, but the Liberal Party today better represents the Prairies than the current Prime Minister and the Conservative caucus. That is the reality. It is demonstrated in their attitudes to what they did with the Canadian Wheat Board. The Liberal Party does not have to make—

  (1205)  

    The parliamentary secretary is rising on a point of order.
    Mr. Speaker, I am wondering if the House would give consent to allow him to continue to speak about how well Mr. Trudeau treated western Canada and the achievements of that government in helping bring down western Canadians, who had worked so hard to build such a great country. If we give him unanimous consent to continue to talk—
    That is obviously not a point of order.
    The member for Winnipeg North is rising on a point of order.
    Mr. Speaker, on the same point of order, I am glad the member is prepared to give unanimous support for me to talk about one of Canada's greatest prime ministers, Pierre Elliott Trudeau. I would be more than happy to talk endlessly about—
    That is not a point of order.
    Questions and comments, the hon. member for Brome—Missisquoi.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my Liberal colleague for his speech. I want to know whether he realizes that by selling CN at a low price in 1995, the Liberals of Canada made matters worse for shippers and set the stage for a monopoly. They missed the opportunity to create a competitive environment by ensuring that the rail transportation system remained public. Does the member realize that by selling CN at a low price, the Liberals sold Canada's soul?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I am not too sure if the NDP's policy is to nationalize CN rail.
    I know that when the Conservatives privatized Manitoba telephone systems, there were many NDP MLAs who stated that they were going to re-nationalize the Manitoba telephone system, which they of course failed to do. They have been in government now for 12 or 13 years and they have never done that.
    I would be interested to know if their policy now is to nationalize one of Canada's railways and, I suspect, its railway lines? If the answer to that is yes, I would not suggest that Canadians hold their breath on that particular point.
    What we need to recognize is that we had the different stakeholders, including the shippers themselves in 2007, who came not only to the government but to opposition parties. They said "here is the issue, and we need to be able to have this issue dealt with". They wanted to see legislation put into place.
    I believe that all parties responded to the pressure back in 2007. If the member looks, he will see that the Liberal Party was not in government, because the NDP worked with the Conservatives to defeat the Liberals.
    The shippers themselves started to lobby here in Ottawa in 2007 for the legislation. The only difference is that we believe that the legislation could be stronger and better.
    Mr. Speaker, I have to take exception to his complaining about the one decision that the NDP has made correctly in its more than 50 years of existing, when its members actually voted with us to get rid of the most corrupt government in Canadian history.
    I could not help but get up and protest that, because they worked really hard to make sure we got a government out that was corrupt. We got the Liberals out of office and put the most accountable government in Canadian history in office, a Conservative government, so I have to defend the NDP for that.
    Ultimately, we are talking about a bill here that has been consulted on widely. We have support from the Forest Products Association of Canada, the Western Barley Growers Association, the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada, the Western Grain Elevator Association, the Canadian Fertilizer Institute and the Canadian Canola Growers Association. All these people are supportive of this bill.
    We know the NDP supports it. The critic spoke very eloquently about that. We know the Liberals support it. Therefore, I wonder if he has consulted the vast Liberal western caucus—
    Is the member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte on his feet on a point of order?

  (1210)  

    Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the debater here today.
    Perhaps you would hold your seat until we finish this round.
    The hon. member for Winnipeg North.
    Mr. Speaker, a tear almost fell from my eye when I saw that we have the Conservative-Reformers now wanting to once again embrace the New Democrats and relive the moment of glory when the New Democrats voted with the Conservatives to destroy things—they applaud—such as the Kelowna accord, the Kyoto accord and the great health care accord that delivers the billions of dollars that provinces needed. Yes, I suspect they will have to relive those memories into the future.
    The member needs to do a little bit better on his addition in terms of the numbers of MPs from western Canada. There are a lot more than one, and I can assure the member that we have got great potential for growth.
    Questions and comments. The hon. member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, you only have about a minute left.
    Mr. Speaker, the member mentioned those who expressed the point of view that they are not in tune with the people, in contradiction to an election result. The member for the Conservative Party just said that Liberals do not care about western Canadians and, quite frankly, held contempt for them, which is totally inaccurate and unfair.
    However, Peter Penashue, when he lost the election in Labrador, stood on his feet and said that Labradorians lost because they did not make a very good decision and that they should have elected him. He said that Labradorians were, quite frankly, not very bright because they did not vote for the Conservatives.
    Would that be a good indication of arrogance on the part of the Conservative Party, its mandarins and its candidates? Would that be a reflection of the ignorance of the people of Atlantic Canada?
    I ask if a perspective could be offered, given the comments from the Conservative Party—
    Resuming debate, the hon. member for Trois-Rivières.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my dear colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin.
    It was not so long ago that I was a teacher and I must say that the level of debate I have seen this morning would not have served as a good example for my classes in which my students were learning to debate substantive issues. I rise with mixed feelings.
    I want to say from the outset that I will of course be voting in favour of this bill, even though I cannot do so with deep conviction. This is mainly because of the meetings I had with shipping organizations. The conclusion I came to out of all these meetings is the old adage that you are probably familiar with, Mr. Speaker, given your wisdom: that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
    Under the current circumstances, with the way the Conservatives are governing, people are so afraid of ending up with nothing that they would rather accept what little they are offered knowing that at least it is a step in the right direction even though so much more could have been done.
    An hon. member: Two steps.
    Mr. Robert Aubin: Yes, two steps, and we might even be on our way toward a solution. It is in that frame of mind that we will be voting in favour of Bill C-52, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act (administration, air and railway transportation and arbitration). It is more a matter of railway transportation in this case. Arbitration is probably the most interesting thing about this amendment to the legislation. I will come back to that a little later.
    For those who may not have heard much about this bill, let me briefly talk about what the problem is. In Canada—a vast country if ever there was one—it is advantageous to transport bulk commodities over long distances by train. It makes sense. It was meant to be. It is impossible for some shippers to even think about a mode of transportation other than rail transport.
    If we had to use trucks to transport the goods shipped by a single train with several cars, first of all, it would be difficult to even get a fleet of trucks that could transport these goods. Second, this would clearly have a major impact on the environment, and third, the trucking company would become completely unproductive from an economic perspective. Rail transportation is therefore the most popular and preferred method of transportation for economic and environmental reasons.
    However, as we all know, freight rail services in Canada are managed by the virtual monopoly of two companies: CN and CP. However, as I will explain later, although there appears to be competition between the two companies, that competition tends to disappear in many situations. It is difficult for shippers to negotiate contracts that meet their expectations and benefit from competition in a monopoly situation.
    It is easy to say that at least Canada has two railway companies, CN and CP; however, the healthy competition that should lower prices is strangely absent. Instead, the territory, and therefore the market, is shared between these two companies. We have two companies holding a virtual monopoly rather than real competition.
    In regions that have access to both CN and CP, unfortunately, one of the companies often demands prices that are too high, which once again leaves shippers with only one choice.
    For several years, shippers have faced problems not only with fees, but also with delays, service interruptions and lack of available cars. There are also problems with outdated and broken cars that let part of the harvest spill out onto the tracks.
    I put myself in the shoes of someone who produces grains, chemicals, natural resources or whatever watching money spill out onto the tracks as the train heads towards the port. Every time that happens, the individual's profit margin and overall profitability take a hit.

  (1215)  

    This immediately results in higher costs for shippers and a drop in profitability. Furthermore, in an economy in which the just-in-time strategy is very often the norm and is an obvious competitive advantage, shippers are caught in a David and Goliath struggle that is difficult to resolve without the government's help.
    I will leave it up to my colleagues to figure out who is David and who is Goliath. I think it will be easy enough, except that in Canada, David never manages to prevail over Goliath.
    Quality rail service is critical for shippers. These products are being exported, and I think it goes without saying that our exports suffer greatly in the fiercely competitive international markets as a result of numerous flaws in Canada's rail transportation system.
    Businesses pay the price every time, because they lose a contract, or they have less room to manoeuvre or they make less profit. David was at least able to make the government aware of the problems he had with Goliath, but it took a lot of effort. I would say this is a marathon rather than a sprint. Efforts to raise awareness began in 2007, but it took until 2013, today, for the government to bring in a meagre bill.
    I should also mention the work done previously by my colleague from Trinity—Spadina, who introduced Bill C-441, which members will certainly remember and which had loftier ambitions for dealing with this matter.
    Nevertheless, there is a glimmer of hope. In 2015, we will replace this government that is plagued by scandals and poor management, and we will be able to do more about this.
    I have to admit that I support this bill because of the shippers, as I mentioned earlier. This puts me in mind, appropriately enough, of the little engine that could, except that in this case, we are talking about a big engine that moves slowly indeed. It really needs a nudge.
    What is in Bill C-52, an outstanding bill in the eyes of the Conservatives?
    Obviously, the main point is that shippers will be able to use an arbitration process to settle their disputes with a railway company that, as we know, has a virtual monopoly.
    To be eligible for arbitration, the shipper must demonstrate that attempts have been made to arrive at an agreement with the railway company, which is not easy to begin with. In its decision, the arbitrator establishes the level of services the railway company must provide and its obligations to the shipper. That would be part of the contract, I suppose. Contracts are confidential, which is why I said “I suppose” in the previous sentence.
    In addition, Bill C-52 will only apply to new contracts between shippers and railway companies.
    Furthermore, the maximum penalty is $100,000. I guess $100,000 for a company that made a profit of $2.7 million is not very scary. What is worse is that, if imposed, the fine will not go to the shipper to make up for the inconvenience, but into government coffers. Is this a new tax or a new fee? I have no idea. I will let the public decide whether this is appropriate or not.
    Since I am quickly running out of time, I will move on to the conclusion right away.
    I will support this bill, although it is a reflection of a tired government that is more concerned about image than substance. These days, even its image is taking a hit.
    All shippers who work daily to provide Canadians and international clients with the best of their acquired expertise can count on the NDP, not only to allow this legislation to move forward in its early stages, but also to follow up and assess the effectiveness of the measures put in place by Bill C-52.

  (1220)  

    The solution is simple: in 2015, elect an NDP government that will once again make it possible for all Canadians to proudly believe that we can build a more just society where everyone's efforts will bear fruit.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague who sits with me on the transportation committee and who would have noticed that even before the committee started its deliberations, it was clear that the Conservatives were not interested in any amendments to the bill, despite the well thought out and comprehensive amendments brought forward to us by the rail shippers themselves. They found serious flaws with the bill and serious ways of solving those flaws. We in the NDP, of course, supported many of those amendments as a way of making the David and Goliath relationship a little fairer. It would not be completely fair, but it would be a little fairer.
    I wonder if the member could comment in particular on the right to an arbitration process that would include an ability for the shipper to be awarded damages or to receive some recompense from the carrier, before going to court, through the agreements that would be reached through arbitration.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for his question, which actually has several parts. I will try to briefly address each of his sub-questions.
    First, with regard to the amendments, I fully agree with my colleague's comments. This is not the only parliamentary committee to consider this approach as highly partisan.
    Is there a party anywhere on earth that can get every single thing right in the first draft? Apparently, yes: Canada's Conservatives. According to them, every bill tabled by the government needs no amendments and no changes because it is perfect at first writing.
     As an example, I will discuss a proposed amendment that clearly shows what could have been done to improve things by going through a second, third and fourth step. The amendment proposed including detailed information on service agreements to help everyone understand the specific obligations. This would not be too difficult to do, yet even this was denied. I will stop there for now, but I may have the opportunity to come back with more examples. Even so, I think this is enough to make the point.
    As for the shippers' ability to successfully manage a David and Goliath relationship during arbitration with such giants as railways, it is obvious that in the end, should David prevail, the monies should go to him rather than fattening up the Treasury Board's coffers.

  (1225)  

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, the deputy critic for transport, infrastructure and communities, for his well-crafted speech. He has shown us yet again how eloquent he is and how he has a great command of the language of Molière.
    He said that the Conservatives did not want to improve bills in committee. That is absolutely appalling. I would like the member to talk about the imbalance. He made reference to David and Goliath in talking about the relationship between carriers and shippers.
    Could the member tell us a little bit more about the imbalance between freight train and passenger train companies?
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from LaSalle—Émard for her question.
    I have been making a concerted effort these days to try to develop even half the talent I have in the language of Molière in the language of Shakespeare, but that will have to be for another day.
    My colleague is particularly interested in public transit. Considering the time I have today, I will focus on that.
    To begin I would like to remind everyone following the debate that Canada is the only G7 and OECD country that does not have a national public transit strategy. This sets us apart once again, but not in a good way. The Conservatives are to blame for this, but so are the Liberals, who also could have done something. It does not exist today because successive governments have failed to create a transit policy. In 2015, the NDP will have some solutions for Canadians.
    As for the possibility of having passenger trains and freight trains travelling on the same rail lines at the same time, there are many examples in countries around the world where people agree on transportation schedules.
    That is definitely not the case here, where priority is given to the transportation of goods. With an ever-growing population and urban areas that are exploding, we need to revisit this issue. It will most certainly be the subject of a future debate and another bill.
    Mr. Speaker, we are here in the House to correct one of the failings of neo-liberalism that dates back to 1995, namely the ridiculous, ill-conceived privatization of Canadian National. A public service was dumped. It was privatized, without any consideration for the needs of those who used the rail lines.
    We will be supporting this bill because it contains certain elements that are extremely beneficial. It corrects certain shortcomings. It does not correct them all, but it does correct some. Shippers will have the right to enter into service agreements with rail companies. The bill also creates an arbitration process, conducted by the Canadian Transportation Agency, for failed negotiations, and it imposes penalties for violating the results of arbitration. That is a start.
    We would have liked to see financial remedies included in the bill. Also, we would have liked this bill to cover previously negotiated agreements, but that was not included. However, this is a first step. People came to us asking for more. We will not forget about them. That is important. Obviously, significant corrections will have to be made in 2015.
    The government is making a lot of corrections with this law, but it is not fixing all the problems. Neo-liberalism continues to drive this government, meaning that the government gives the rights of companies priority over Canadians' right to a good public service. Regrettably, that way of thinking did not end with this law. The Liberal Party of Canada unfortunately adopted this neo-liberal ideology in 1995. CN was not the only crown corporation that was privatized at the time and that is now causing us problems, but that is how it is.
    Allow me to provide a brief history of the problem. Before 1995, CN was a crown corporation that provided a public service. When people complained, they complained to the government, which took corrective measures. CN's priority was to give Canada a tool to promote economic growth. It was not to make as much of a profit as possible. That is a key difference. We had more services. We had a better service and it allowed us to increase our country's collective wealth. However, true to form, the Liberal government at the time privatized CN. The Liberal Party had debts to pay and friends to reward. It privatized crown corporations without any guarantees that would protect the interests of users, which were not taken into account. No protective provisions or regulations were put in place. The Liberals did not pay any attention to any of that.
    This work was not done in 1995. Now, we have to do it. I find it somewhat odd that the representatives of the Liberal Party are blaming the government for failing to fix the situation when they are the ones who created the problem in 1995 and who never bothered trying to fix it the entire time that they were in office until 2006, yet in Canada, 70% of surface goods are shipped by rail. That is a huge amount. Basically, the railway is a structure that allows us to function economically.
    Up to 80% of the service commitments for agriculture rail customers are not currently being met. This basically means that rural shippers are being taken to the cleaners. It seems that the priority is to help the company maximize its profits, not to support our agricultural industry. In this regard, the Liberals and the Conservatives are both on the same page. The Liberals privatized CN, a company that is essential to grain exports, while the Conservatives did away with the Canadian Wheat Board, simply because it was too Canadian for them.

  (1230)  

    Thank goodness it was the Conservatives. If the Liberals had done it, they would have sold CN to an American company. Some things never change. Once a Liberal, always a Liberal. It is obvious that people need lobotomies to join the party, and that goes double for people who want to become Liberal MPs.
    The mining sector uses trains to export our resources. It accounts for half of all jobs in the first nations. This sector is the second-largest employer, after the public sector. Rail service is fundamentally important to all regions and all rural areas. This infrastructure is essential to them, but the government has forgotten them.
    Since 1995, farmers and other businesses have been suffering as a result of the poor quality of freight rail service, yet they have not managed to get Ottawa's attention. Neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives have been able to deliver the goods. The goods have never been delivered.
    Punctuality is important to rail transportation. If a shipper needs 50 train cars to transport iron ore, nickel, potash, wood, grain or wheat, the company cannot show up with 40 cars. That would be 10 cars too few. If a freight train from Thunder Bay or Montreal is supposed to roll into the port of Vancouver at 10 o'clock in the morning because the boat is leaving at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, but it shows up 16 hours late, the boat will not wait. That is a problem and it is hurting our economy.
    Some people claim to be in favour of jobs and economic growth, but when they are faced with a key issue that is hurting the Canadian economy, they say that they will try to fix things, but that is all. There is a problem. They say private companies have rights, and we cannot interfere in their business.
    We saw this recently with Air Canada. The government said that Air Canada was a private company that had the right to lay off 2,300 Canadians. It was not the government's concern, and it did not want to intervene. That is the problem. This is hurting our economy, and the government could not care less. This same government then turns around and says that it is championing economic growth. It is not delivering the goods, and that is an understatement.
    There are currently 1.4 million unemployed workers. We hope this policy will help bring down the unemployment rate somewhat. In order to see the unemployment rate and the number of unemployed workers drop, Canadians will have to wait for a real Canadian government. Until then, this bill is a step in the right direction.
    We cannot change the past, but we can ensure that the public services provided by private companies are offered in a responsible manner. That is non-negotiable. Although private companies say that they will replace the Crown, the Crown's main priority is not to make a profit and give the CEO a bonus, but rather to deliver the goods. In order for Canada's economy to grow, it is crucial that the goods be delivered quickly.

  (1235)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, let me say at the outset that I hope the translation came through wrong because if it was right what I got from it is that the hon. member said that anyone who believed in the Liberal Party, voted for it or took out a membership with it had to have had an intellectual lobotomy. We have seen this from both parties.
    The member from Winnipeg, whose riding I do not remember, has said that anyone who voted for the Reform Party in the past was just not smart enough, that western Canadians did not know what they were talking about, and that the millions of people who voted for the Reform Party had to be wrong and were not sane Canadians.
    The official opposition is now saying that anyone who is a member of the Liberal Party must have had an intellectual lobotomy. What is it about the opposition parties that they so disrespect the choices Canadians make? What is it about—
    Order, please. The hon. member for Kingston and the Islands is rising on a point of order.
    Mr. Speaker, I am curious, not about the subject with respect to what my colleague is saying but to the relevance to the bill that we are discussing today.
    Order. The hon. member for Kingston and the Islands raises an important issue--that is, relevance. I would just take the opportunity to remind all hon. members that what they say in their speeches ought to be relevant to the matter before the House. Obviously, there is some latitude in context there and when questions are asked sometimes it relates to the context rather than the bill itself. However, as a general rule I would remind all hon. colleagues to stick to the matter before the House.
    If the hon. parliamentary secretary could quickly put his question.

  (1240)  

    Mr. Speaker, I hope the hon. member will apologize to those Canadians who might have a different opinion than he does.
    Now that we have heard that both the NDP and the Liberals are supporting the bill, I would ask the member to reflect on this. We have had a broad level of consultation on it, have seen how many people across the country are supporting it and how important it is to industry, export and trade, which the opposition members do not support, including jobs and economic growth. In light of the fact they are supporting the bill, will they help us in passing it quickly?

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for giving me a chance to clarify this interesting position.
    A member of the Liberal Party of Canada who blames the government for public transit problems has obviously forgotten that his party is the one that created those problems. Maybe their lobotomies caused some memory loss.
    As for the government member's comments, he must understand that we support the bill because it will finally allow users, those who pay for this service, to obtain an essential service.
    In 2013, it makes absolutely no sense that trains do not arrive on time, that there are not enough cars and that rail lines are in such a sorry state. If the Conservatives cannot understand that, what are they doing in power?
    Mr. Speaker, I have a question about CN.
    My NDP colleague spent a few minutes strongly criticizing the privatization of CN. Is he in favour of re-nationalizing CN?
    Mr. Speaker, that is hypocritical neo-liberal talk.
    They privatize without any regulations or obligation and then when it is time to correct the situation, they have no recourse. Nationalization is not the problem. Regulation is the problem. You cannot sell a crown corporation like a fool without protecting the consumers.
    That is what should have happened in 1995, but they failed to do that. They still do not understand that it was important to do that. They have their neo-liberal blinders on and think that everything must be sold. They are just like the Conservatives, but at least the Conservatives are candid enough to tell us to our faces. The Liberals are not.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I am glad to be able to rise and add to this debate on the third reading of Bill C-52.
    Today is an important day in history, as it turns out, because this date in 1887 was the first day a train actually arrived in Vancouver. That train had a picture of Queen Victoria on the front of it, which I am sure the members opposite will be very glad of.
    Our rail system has some problems, and those problems have been caused by years of neglect by governments with respect to the monopolistic position the rail companies are in vis-à-vis the rail shippers, the people who actually use the rail system. I will not go into the problems we have with the rail passenger system, which has suffered untold neglect by both the Liberals and the Conservatives.
    In 1995, the Liberal government decided to sell CN, which was at the time one of Canada's biggest rail shipping companies. I am not going to answer a question from the members to my left about whether we are going to re-nationalize CN. That is not the point. The point is that when a public entity is given to the private sector, one must look at the consequences of that decision. If one of the consequences is to have created a virtual monopoly, then one needs to have put in regulatory controls to balance the playing field. That the Liberals did not do. I have heard from the member for Winnipeg North that the member for Wascana is a champion for the shippers, but from 1995 to 2006, his government was in power, and the Liberals did nothing to protect the rail shippers from their decision to privatize one of Canada's two large rail-freight operations. The shippers finally complained loudly and long enough that this Conservative government said that it would do something about it. That was in 2007.
    Here we are in 2013, and I hear the parliamentary secretary and others saying to hurry up and pass this bill. We have been talking about this for seven years. Let us hurry up and have a bill to talk about. Finally we do, and it is flawed. That is one of the reasons I am here to talk about this bill today. It is not that we are not supporting it. We do sometimes have to hold our noses and support flawed legislation, because it is at least one step forward. However, we could have gone six or seven steps forward, and the Conservative government chose not to.
    In 2008, as a result of a lot of pressure from the shippers, who said that they were being held hostage by the rail companies, there was a rail service review. That service review came up with a report in early 2011, before the current government was elected. In its platform, the Conservatives pledged to do something about it, but interestingly, even though the rail service review was in, it was not in the Speech from the Throne. There was no indication that this bill would be part of the legislative agenda of the current government. In fact, the Conservatives did not actually propose legislation. When the rail service review report was put in place, the Conservatives then tried mediation. They tried to talk it out between the parties and see if they could work it out. The problem is that talking does not work if one of the parties is so enormous that it absolutely controls the other.
    Then the member for Trinity—Spadina put forward a private member's bill, Bill C-441, that would deal with all the steps of the problem. It would deal with the service level agreements, the price and a whole bunch of the issues the rail shippers had determined were their problems in dealing with this David and Goliath situation. All of a sudden, the Conservatives said, “Whoops, we forgot. We had better put a bill forward”, and Bill C-52 magically appeared.
    The trouble is that Bill C-52 does not actually deal with some of the shippers' problems. It deals with one in particular, and really, that is all that has happened in this bill. It would deal with one of the shippers' problems, which is that they do not have the right to a service level agreement in their negotiations with the rail companies.That means that they do not have the right to negotiate, to firmly fix in their contracts with the rail companies, that, yes, a train will arrive on Saturday when their grain is ready to be shipped; yes, there will be 12 boxcars; yes, those boxcars will make it to Vancouver by two weeks from Saturday. Those are the kinds of things the shippers said they just cannot get.

  (1245)  

    Finally, we have a piece of legislation that would actually deal with that, in a roundabout way, by saying that if the shippers cannot work it out with the rail companies, then they would have the right to an arbitrated process. Therefore, the shippers would now have a right to an arbitrated process that would give them that service level review.
    I am being reminded, Mr. Speaker, that I will be splitting my time with the member for Brossard—La Prairie.
    Therefore, one piece of the puzzle would be solved. As a result, this party will be supporting the bill at third reading but wishes that it had gone further.
    The shippers would now have the right, as a result of the bill, to an arbitrated service level agreement. However, that arbitration would come at a cost. The shippers themselves would have to pay for half the cost of that arbitration process.
    The railroads have deep pockets. Paying for an arbitration process, for them, would be like a small flea on the back of an elephant. It would mean nothing to them. However, to the shippers, it may mean something. There would be no assistance from the government in the cost of this arbitration process. That is one problem.
    The railways have a monopoly on price, as well, and price is not part of what could be arbitrated. The price is something that would be subject to negotiations only between the shippers themselves and the railroad. The railroads would not have to do anything about the price in this arbitration process. All they would have the right to talk about and all that could be arbitrated would be the service level agreements.
    Railways have a habit of charging extra fees. Airlines have extra fees now. Passengers are charged for bags. Apparently some airlines charge passengers to use the overhead bins. There is one airline in Europe that is going to charge passengers to use the bathroom.
    The railways do the same thing.The railways have the ability, as a part of the service level agreement, to set up fees, which the shippers will pay if their product is not ready on the day they suggest or if there is any other problem the railways might consider the fault of the shippers. The shippers do not have any reciprocal rights.
    That is something else that is missing from the bill. The shippers cannot charge the railways a fee if they are late. In fact, the government has said that if the railways break these agreements, the shippers' only recourse is to go to the courts for recompense from the railway companies.
    Again, we are dealing with a David and Goliath in the courts. We now have the situation where small wheat farmers in central Alberta, who are barely making ends meet with their wheat farms because of the demise of the Wheat Board, are actually going to have to sue the rail companies, at their own expense, because the rail companies failed to meet their arbitrated service level agreements. That is yet another penalty for these poor shippers.
    The shippers have told the government, and we in the NDP agree, that a mechanism by which the shippers could arbitrate a penalty regimen back to the shippers would be appreciated so that if the railways break the service level agreement, the shippers would know what they were going to get and would not have to go to court. That is done all the time in labour arbitrations and labour negotiations.
    The government claims that it is not going to do it here. It is saying that the shippers should speak to the courts.
    In closing, I would like to say that we in the NDP will, in fact, be supporting the bill. However, there is a lot more the bill could have done, but every single one of the amendments we proposed was rejected by the government at committee without, really, a whole lot of thought.

  (1250)  

    Mr. Speaker, I have been listening intently to the last number of interventions. What I think is not understood well by the opposition is the incredible value the railways provide in Canada. In fact, it is a North American industry. From any perspective, the freight railways in North America are the finest in the world. They support trade, certainly international trade and ports, and businesses.
    In fact, the previous speaker spoke about wheat. There were record grain shipments just a couple of years ago, and those numbers continue to climb, as a matter of fact. Goods leaving Canada through our ports and coming into Canada through our ports are shipped by the railways. This is an incredible strength for Canada.
    I think what the government has sought to do is to balance the rights of the shippers and the railways and to provide a mechanism whereby we can come to agreements that actually work for shippers and that support industries and support communities.
    It is a good bill. The member should support it.
    Mr. Speaker, in fact, we have said that we will support it. We are disappointed that it does not go far enough.
    While the rail companies do provide a service in Canada, the shippers have said that the service has not been a fair marketplace. While we are correcting part of that unfair marketplace, we are not dealing with the whole problem. For example, soybeans from Argentina enjoy a competitive advantage in markets such as Japan and China, because they are delivered faster and more punctually than soybeans from Canada, despite the fact that the total distance covered is significantly shorter for products from Canada. Part of that problem is the ability of the rail companies to meet a service level agreement. That is part of what the bill does.
    However, we on this side of the House, who actually believe in fairer and freer trade, believe that we should be in a position to compete with countries like Argentina and not allow them to overrun us.

  (1255)  

    Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for York South—Weston for his presentation. I see that the official opposition is prepared to support the bill, recognizing that there are so many lost opportunities.
    Recently the railway industry in our country picked four pillars as its priorities going forward. One of those is sustainability, particularly with respect to reduced greenhouse gases and the fact that shipping goods by rail is much better for climate action than shipping by transport trailer and truck. I wonder if the hon. member has any thoughts on what opportunities we have missed in this piece of legislation to also recognize the greenhouse gas benefits of shipping goods by rail.
    Mr. Speaker, one of the government's reactions to comments about the pricing portion of the bill was to suggest that shippers have another alternative. Many of them, but not all of them, have trucks as an alternative. Well, trucks consume considerably more fossil fuel and have a larger environmental footprint. As a result, we should be encouraging the use of rail rather than discouraging it through inaction on the part of the government.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his speech. In the House of Commons he often speaks to transport-related issues.
    We all know that freight and passenger transport is vital to Canada. In fact, that is what Canada was built on and what continues to contribute to Canada's economic prosperity.
    The hon. member talked about how other countries have managed to balance the interests of the shippers, those who use the railway for moving freight and people. I would like him to elaborate on that.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, certainly Canada is a laggard when it comes to the creation of rail systems across our great land. We are one of the last countries to adopt good rail transportation strategies. We have no public transportation strategy by the government. We have no support from the federal government for public transportation in a concerted and disciplined way. As a result, we, as Canadians, are suffering from a lack of good public transit infrastructure and a lack of electric public transit, which in fact deals with greenhouse gas problems and helps the environment. We in Canada should be doing way more than we already are.

[Translation]

    The NDP thinks this is a very important issue, and it is no secret that we will be supporting the bill, essentially because it is a step in the right direction. I will explain. However, much more could have been done. Unfortunately, the government missed the opportunity to do more. Before getting into the bill specifically, I would like to talk about why railway transportation is so important in Canada.
    It comes as no great surprise that railway transportation is important in Canada when you consider that 70% of surface transportation of goods is done by rail. Railway transportation is an effective way of fighting greenhouse gases. My colleague mentioned that as well. We must encourage train use as much as possible.
    I am glad to be able to travel by VIA Rail this afternoon to get to my riding. We must promote train use. Here we are talking about shipping merchandise. I am not merchandise, so I will get back to talking specifically about the bill.
    The bill is a step in the right direction, since it tries to solve the problem of the existing monopolies. When we talk about rail service, we are fully aware that the two major companies, CN and CP, have a virtual monopoly.
    The virtual monopoly is a problem. It is one outcome of the actions that the Liberal government took in 1995, which included the privatization of CN. In addition to privatizing CN, the government did not implement the appropriate regulations. That is why we are surprised to see the reaction of the Liberals when they complain about the Conservative government's failure to act. It is true and we agree that the Conservative government waited a very long time before introducing a bill. Actually it was 2007 or so. That is when studies were carried out. A report was also released in 2011. That means that we have waited for more than five or six years for this bill, which provides a partial solution to one of the existing problems.
    The Liberal government at the time identified a problem. In 1995, when the Liberal government privatized CN, it had the option to look at what could be done to avoid a monopoly over rail transportation.
    What regulations can we put in place to ensure that services are better designed and distributed? The lack of regulations is a problem. Take VIA Rail for example. In some cases, this company needs to rent the railway tracks from CN or CP.
    That also has to do with the virtual monopoly. As a result, shippers using rail services must pay more. In addition, they are experiencing some problems with the services provided. We hear a lot about the impact on consumers, among others. Higher costs and delays are among the problems linked to the virtual monopoly.
    Bill C-52 addresses some of those problems. It creates an arbitration process. That arbitration process will allow for better discussion and a better way of solving problems with certain distributors. As my colleague mentioned, penalties will be imposed in some cases. The problem is that the money from those penalties will go into government coffers, not to the shippers. The NDP is trying to protect shippers in that respect.
    Studies were done and reports were released. Unfortunately, the Conservatives did not take advantage of all of that information.
    I would like to thank our transport critic, the member for Trinity—Spadina. She introduced a private member's bill outlining a better system that would give greater protection to shippers.

  (1300)  

    In response to that bill, the Conservatives introduced a bill that is quite flawed. I have already pointed out a few of those flaws. For example, the government could have done more when it came to arbitration. Unfortunately, it did not.
    I am thinking of light rail transit on the new Champlain Bridge. It is the right way to go considering that we are moving towards an economy of the future. However, seeing how the government is managing this file, it makes us wonder whether it will act openly and transparently, particularly regarding construction of the Champlain Bridge. This corridor between Montreal and the south shore, as well as between Canada and the United States, is very important.
    The government's actions worry us. It makes decisions behind closed doors and ignores what is said during consultations. We see that here. Even though the government brags about having consulted a number of people and says it stands behind shippers, at the end of the day, it introduced a bill that does not reflect all the suggestions that were made. None of the amendments, NDP or Liberal, were accepted by the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. Here again, the government is not open to suggestions.
    It is unfortunate because we said that we support the bill. However, today, we are pointing out certain flaws. The government seems to be digging in its heels once again. Of course, this is a majority government that can do as it pleases. When it comes to protecting shippers, we are told that it is part of our economy. However, that is no longer the case when it comes to protecting consumers. It is difficult to understand why the Conservative government is not listening to what the opposition has to say and, in particular, to what the shippers and the witnesses told the committee.
    A lot of work remains to be done. We are used to having a government that does not listen very well. We are supporting this bill because it is a first step and we are headed in the right direction. However, the government has not taken advantage of this opportunity.
    As for the Liberals, they knew when they decided to privatize CN in 1995 that a virtual monopoly would be created. Why did they not introduce this type of bill? Why did they not do more and include what they are asking for today? When the Liberals were in power between 1995 and 2006, why did they do nothing about this? Why did they wait so long, and why are they getting all worked up today and saying that they are the defenders of the system and they want to protect shippers?
    We have been saying from the very beginning that there was much to be done at the time. We lament the fact that it took the Conservatives so long to act and that the Liberals' failed to make progress on this file when they were in government.
    I mentioned some amendments in the report that should have been included. A 2008 study, which was released in 2011, was a starting point. The NDP is not simply voicing its opposition to the bill, but is also making suggestions. We suggested including details about the service agreements. At this point, there really are none because there is a monopoly. We want a better system that better protects shippers.
    There is a problem with the dispute resolution mechanism in service agreements in the event of breach of contract. With this bill, shippers must pay the fees for the arbitration process that will be put in place. Why not make the big corporations, CN and CP, pay these fees and solve these problems since they are the reason for bringing in these agreements?

  (1305)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, as I have said a number of times, we spent a good number of years speaking to people before we brought the bill forward, consulting with Canadians and with people within the industry. We have now a very broad cross-section of people in industry who support the bill, and they want us to get on with it.
    The member was quite right that the Liberals, when they had their opportunity, did nothing with this. As I said earlier, we are very grateful that the NDP joined with us to get rid of the Liberal Party and bring in an accountable government back in 2006.
    I want to focus on one part of the his speech and what we have heard constantly from some of the members opposite with respect to the NDP future policy of nationalizing CN Rail.
    In the context of this debate, has the NDP costed out how much it would be to nationalize Canadian National Railway, what the cost would be to the shareholders of that company and how that would improve freight rail service in Canada? Would it increase taxes to cover the cost of that nationalization? Would it make other cuts to cover the cost of that? Has the NDP costed that out, or is that all just part of the—

  (1310)  

    The hon. member for Brossard—La Prairie.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I am not sure I want to thank the member for that question, but I will do so anyway, because I am polite.
    First of all, let me say that we are not in favour of nationalizing CN. What we said, and I will repeat it again, is that the problem was created in 1995, when the Liberals were in power and they decided to privatize CN without putting any regulations in place to protect shippers. My colleague should agree with us on that.
    I think he will agree that the Liberals are to blame for their inaction, but then he also needs to look in the mirror and ask himself why the Conservatives did nothing about this when they came to power. Why did they wait so long? When they finally decided to do something, they introduced a bill that does not go far enough and does not do enough to protect the rights of shippers. That is the problem we have with this bill.
    Instead of making up ridiculous stories, the Conservatives should really focus on what is going on here and on the bill, which unfortunately still has flaws. It is a step in the right direction, but it needs improvement.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, at times the New Democrats lose their focus and want to take shots, whenever they can, at the previous Liberal government.
    It is important for us to note that the shippers, the industries—agriculture, forestry, minerals, chemicals, fertilizer, the oil and gas industry, our very important manufacturing industry and others—collectively, back in 2006-2007, then came to the opposition and the government of the day saying that they needed this type of legislation brought in. That is where the issue originated.
     We could be very critical and agree that the government took quite a while to respond, but we do have legislation before us today. We in the Liberal Party will be supporting the legislation through third reading, but we want to see amendments to the legislation.
    The deputy leader of the Liberal Party proposed three amendments at the third reading stage. Had the amendments of the member for Wascana been allowed, would the NDP have supported them, which would have been of great benefit for us?

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question.
    First of all, we do not mean to bash anyone, but I am simply explaining why we now have this problem. With regard to the privatization in 1995, one cannot help but wonder why no one looked at the possibility of not privatizing the tracks. That issue could have been debated and we could have avoided our current situation, with a virtual monopoly, poor service, and so on.
    As for amendments, we proposed some at the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. They essentially supported what the shippers coalition was calling for. We proposed some things, but unfortunately, the Conservative government did not accept any of our very well thought-out amendments.
    Mr. Speaker, first I want to say that I will be splitting my time with the member for Surrey North.

[English]

    I want to thank my colleague from Trinity—Spadina for all of her hard work and passion in this field. I will start with a short resumé of what happened and why we are here today.

[Translation]

    Essentially, the bill gives rail freight customers and shippers the right to enter into service agreements with railway companies. It also establishes an arbitration process, led by the Canadian Transportation Agency, to resolve disputes in the event negotiations fail and sets penalties for violations of arbitration decisions.
    I would like to give everyone some background. In 1995 the Liberals, who were in power at the time, decided to sell CN. The problem was that they neglected to put in place an effective regulatory framework for rail transportation. As a result, railway companies held a virtual monopoly. The Liberals were in power until 2006 but did nothing to address this problem. There was nothing in place. The problems likely to arise in these situations usually affect prices. Indeed, since railways had a virtual monopoly, users sometimes had to pay very dearly.
    In committee, witnesses told us that sometimes the trains arrived without enough cars. In other cases, trains failed to come in on time. Finally, in 2006, when the Conservatives rose to power, they came under a lot of pressure. Seven years later, the bill is before us. We will support the bill, but I would still like to add something.

  (1315)  

[English]

    I had the chance to speak to Bill C-52 at the last reading stage. Since then, this bill has been studied in the transport committee, of which I am a member. This bill is a first step in the right direction and I support that, so I will vote in favour of this bill. However, it is important to note that several witnesses who came before the transport committee to speak about this bill wanted amendments. With the suggested amendments, this bill would become a robust tool and industry standard for Canada.
    The committee received a list of six amendments that were the bare minimum of what the Coalition of Rail Shippers and other witnesses would like to see in this bill. The Coalition of Rail Shippers is the main rail freight customer stakeholder organization in Canada. These witnesses are experts in their field and key actors in their industry. It is important that the House acknowledge the amendments suggested by this organization. It is also important for us to consider the expert testimony that the transport committee received.
    The following six key amendments were suggested by the shipping community: first, include details on service agreement components; second, delete the term “operational” as it would limit the ability to negotiate and arbitrate service agreements; third, include a dispute resolution mechanism in service agreements for breach of contract; fourth, limit the ability of railway companies to levy penalties and charges that are not in service agreements; fifth, limit arbitration for failed service agreement negotiations to matters raised by the shipper; and, sixth, limit railway companies' ability to raise network issues in arbitration, i.e., finding convenient excuses for not agreeing to shippers' demands in contract negotiations and arbitration.
    These amendments are sensible, practical and, might I add, modest. Unfortunately, all six amendments were defeated at committee by my colleagues opposite. My NDP colleagues and I moved nine amendments at committee. The committee is there to provide space and time for parliamentarians to consider bills of law in depth. How can we uphold the value and ethics of this democratic place when already during witness testimony it is clear that the Conservatives are unwilling to make any changes to the bill? Why are the Conservatives blocking parliamentary work at the committee stage?

[Translation]

    Here, I would like to point out that the Conservatives asked only one question about the nine amendments that my three colleagues and I proposed. I am somewhat annoyed by that approach. Committee work is meant to foster discussion.
    I remember when I was elected two years ago, members from all sides told me that there were too many attacks in the House. I was also told that at times there are more monologues than discussions. However, I was also told that it is different in committee, and that it is in committee that the real group work happens because everyone wants to move this country forward. That is what I was expecting.
    I found myself serving on a committee where the Conservatives did not ask any questions. We proposed amendments to move things forward, but they did not want to discuss them. We talked about our amendments and we explained them. We explained why we wanted to amend the bill and which expert testimony we based our amendments on. They had absolutely no interest, however, because their minds were made up before they even heard the witnesses.

  (1320)  

[English]

    As I said earlier, I will support the bill because it is a first step in the right direction. Without the rejected amendments, the bill remains a partial success for the shippers. I look forward to participating in strengthening the bill in the future by working with the Canadian shipping community and fighting the issue of price gouging and uncompetitive rail freight rates.
    The NDP has participated in efforts to provide the shipping community with better legislation and regulations for quite some time, and we will continue to be involved in this process to benefit shippers by addressing the shortcomings of Bill C-52.
    Earlier I mentioned that several witnesses at committee honoured the amendments brought forward by the Coalition of Rail Shippers. These included Pulse Canada, the Mining Association of Canada, the Forest Products Association of Canada and the Grain Growers of Canada. All those groups wanted those six amendments to be adopted.
    In February I raised some concerns that I had with the bill, including pricing discrepancies between CN and CP; the lack of market competition, innovation and regulation, because CN and CP operate as a duopoly; and the poor quality of rail freight transportation services.
    The parliamentary secretary just asked my colleague a question about the fact that we have one of the nicest systems in the world, but I have some statistics.

[Translation]

    According to the Rail Freight Service Review, 80% of shippers are unhappy.

[English]

    I am not so sure that it is the nicest system in the world. I hope not, according the statistics.
    At the last reading, I stated that the rail freight service review found that 80% of shippers are not satisfied with the services that they receive. This poor quality of services is affecting Canadian exporters, damaging our reputation in the global market and costing us jobs. We cannot afford to be left out of competitive business deals because the CN and CP cannot guarantee satisfactory service.
    I will finish by saying that we must make rail freight services work again for shippers across Canada. We can accomplish this with strong legislation, a strong Bill C-52. I will support it even if I still believe that some amendments should have been adopted by the government.
    Mr. Speaker, I am interested to hear how the NDP now is in such favour of working together at committee because I was here when our government was a minority and the NDP, the Liberals and the Bloc would turn down every single amendment that government members brought forward. They would turn down witnesses. They would turn down reports. They would force committee studies, but now, all of a sudden, the Canadian people have spoken and they have given this government a majority mandate to get the job done across this country. All of a sudden we have heard time and time again that opposition members do not agree with the Canadian people. We know that.
    I keep hearing this and I am wondering if the hon. member at committee asked about the nationalization of CN Rail, because the opposition members constantly talk about it in their speeches. I am wondering if the member asked questions about how much that would cost, whether the people who use the rail service are in favour of nationalizing CN Rail, how much it would cost Canadian taxpayers, how much it would cost shareholders of CN Rail to nationalize it and how nationalizing CN Rail would actually help freight services.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I am not sure if my colleague opposite was listening to my speech, because I was not talking about nationalization. However, I did mention that the Liberals sold CN in 1996.
    Since the member asked me how things are working in my committee, I am happy to tell him that we have problems.
    Since I was elected, 99.3% of the amendments we have proposed over the past two years have not been accepted by the Conservatives. That is not what I call teamwork. I will not talk about how things were before I arrived, because I was not here. I am talking about what I have seen so far.
    We had another problem in committee, and I actually moved a motion on that. The committee chair decided that the meetings will be one hour and forty-five minutes long instead of two hours. In my view, that affects my participation in the committee, because I am often the one who has less time to speak. Given the sequence of speakers, I get less floor time.
    The Conservatives do not ask us questions and do not want to talk with us. That is another problem facing the committee right now.
    I did not ask specific questions about nationalizing CN. Rather, I am interested in what we can do with Bill C-52 to improve Canada's rail system. 

  (1325)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the NDP has found itself in an interesting position. Some speakers stand up and take their shots at the Liberal Party by saying the Liberals privatized CN back in 1995, implying that it was the wrong thing to do, yet very few of those members have the courage to stand in their place and say that as a political entity they will re-nationalize it. The NDP is scared to say exactly where it is today on that issue. Does that party want to nationalize it? If so, there is a significant cost. That party has an obligation to indicate whether or not that is what it wants to do. Do you want to nationalize it, or did the Liberal Party do a good thing back in 1995?
    With regard to dealing with our rail lines, rail freight rates have always been a primary concern of the Liberal Party. If we deal with the shippers properly, all Canadians will benefit.
    The hon. member for Winnipeg North asked the Chair for an opinion. I would just remind the hon. member not to speak directly to his colleagues but to direct all comments through the Chair.
    The hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, that is rather strange.
    I just stated the facts in my speech: the Liberals sold and privatized CN. I am not saying that it was either a good or a bad decision; what I am saying is that the government should have implemented regulations before selling, privatizing and denationalizing CN. The government should have come up with some rules to make it work. Simply privatizing a company and leaving the rest to the market is not okay.
    We saw prices that made no sense, and people came to tell us that the service was not good. When 80% of those who use a service say that it is not good, it is no longer a question of nationalization or denationalization. We must not forget that it is an essential service, as the member said. If it is an essential service, there must be regulations to ensure that it is a good service.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak to this bill, which is very important to my constituency of Surrey North. I have a number of port facilities and a major rail yard in my constituency.
    The railway had an important role in the history and development of our country and in bringing people together from east and west. Even today, the rail lines play a very important part in the economic development of our country. Over 70% of surface goods are transferred by railroads in our country, and that is a very significant part of our economy, which depends on the movement of goods, whether from one part of Canada to the other or as exports.
    The problem right now, which the Conservatives have been sitting on for the last five years, is that small business, farmers, miners and other industries in western Canada have been asking the government to help them get their products to ports and various markets and to provide some sort of guidelines or agreement with the railway companies so that they can move their products there.
    I want Canadians to know that we have a dual monopoly in the country. CN and CP control railway traffic throughout Canada. The problem has been inefficiencies in getting railway companies to provide on-time service or to guarantee that they are actually going to pick up products to deliver to various ports or markets.
    The Conservatives are very keen on signing trade agreements. However, we have seen what the trade deficit is even now. Under the Conservatives, we have the biggest trade deficit in the history of the country. We have a trade deficit of over $50 billion. When they took over, we had a surplus of $18 billion, but now we have a trade deficit of over $50 billion.
    The Conservative government has no clue how it is going to improve the well-being of our farmers, miners or forestry towns or how it will create well-paying jobs for Canadians in the western part of Canada. It is bent on signing paper trade agreements, but what it needs to focus on is the needs of our community, the needs of our farmers, our miners and our western producers so that they can get their products out to the ports and the markets on time. The government has failed to invest in the infrastructure needed for this country to progress into a greater trading and export nation so that we can generate these jobs.
    Under the Conservative government, we have seen a lack of infrastructure funding for moving our products out to the ports. It is hurting our jobs and communities. It is hurting our ports in that they do not know when the products are going to come. It is hurting our trucking industry. It has a ripple effect if the products do not reach their destinations on time because of the inaction by the government over the last five years at least.
    I was listening to the previous member from the Liberal Party, the member for Winnipeg North. Liberals will have crocodile tears as they say they will support this idea and provide Canadians with a proper rail service. I am sorry to say it, but where were they? Prior to 2006, they had a chance to provide help for our forest communities, mining towns, pulse growers and farmers in the prairies, but they will say one thing when they are not in government and do exactly what the Conservatives do when they are in government. That is their record.

  (1330)  

    The Conservative record is also one of inaction. They have failed to provide support for our businesses and for our farmers to help them get their products to the market on time.
    I sit on the international trade committee, where I have heard many times from pulse organizations, farmers, beef producers and all sorts of other industries in western Canada. They have been complaining and have been lobbying government for a number of years to let the government know that they have issues in getting their product to the market. Part of the reason is that rail companies fail to deliver on the commitment to have their products shipped out to the ports or to other parts of North America. Time and time again we have seen this delay, this foot-dragging, from the Conservatives for the last many years.
     This is a small step in the right direction. A number of amendments were introduced at the committee stage. As with other bills that have been introduced in this House that go to committee, 99.3% of the amendments that the NDP has introduced have been rejected. One would think maybe 5% or 10% would be approved to improve the bill and help our communities, businesses and farmers by improving the effectiveness and efficiency of our rail system. However, even if the bill is poorly drafted or has spelling mistakes, the Conservatives believe that whatever they have is it. No amendments will be approved at the committee stage. That has been the Conservative record.
    What we need to do to provide help for our businesses, our farmers, and our forestry industry is help them get their products out. We introduced a number of amendments; not only that, the industry provided at least six amendments that could help improve the bill and could help the farmers, miners and forestry towns. However, the Conservatives stonewalled those amendments from being incorporated into the bill.
     This is one small step. As with other bills I have seen in this House, we as parliamentarians can do a lot more than what is being done by the government. I think we can help our businesses. We can improve our forestry towns. We can help our farmers.
    Farmers put in a lot of hours. Some of them put in 14 or 16 hours a day and 80 or 90 hours a week. Farmers work hard to bring their crops to fruition; it is our job to help them get their products to market. Clearly the Conservatives have failed miserably at investing in the infrastructure that would allow our farm products, our industry products and our forestry products to be exported. That is the Conservative record.
    As I have said previously, under the current government we have the largest trade deficit ever. That should be a concern to all Canadians. When the Conservatives took over, we had a trade surplus. Now we have a trade deficit of over $50 billion. That is a concern to me and a concern to my community, because jobs are dependent on trade exports.
    Conservatives have failed miserably on this agenda of providing infrastructure, not only to move our goods in general but to move goods within cities. We have seen the gridlock. I have seen the gridlock in the Lower Mainland in greater Vancouver. I have seen the gridlock in my own city. I have seen gridlock in ports. Conservatives need to invest locally, in communities, so that we can move our products overseas.
    Again, I will be supporting this bill. It is a small step in the right direction. However, the Conservatives can do more to help our farmers, our miners and our forestry industry.

  (1335)  

    Mr. Speaker, one thing the opposition has given no recognition to is the significant improvement in grain shipments from Canada's west.
    When we became the government in 2006, we were effectively overrun with complaints from western Canadian farmers who were having problems unloading their grain at various elevators and having that grain picked up by the railways. However, since 2006 on-time delivery and on-time shipments have improved significantly, to the point where we hear very few complaints. The system is working well. As I indicated, there are record grain shipments out of Canada's west today. There are record grain shipments out of Canada as a whole. This had been a real strain for grains and oilseed producers.
     In fact, the softwood lumber industry in British Columbia, where the member is from, is booming. It came back in a significant way. They found ways to innovate, and the railways are playing a big part in B.C. ports.
    The member mentioned the railway and Canada's history. The railway was the national dream. It is what brought B.C. into Confederation. Today, it is a huge part of B.C.'s strength, with both shippers and the railways combining for a successful story.
    This is a good bill that the member should support.

  (1340)  

    Mr. Speaker, in fact one of the port facilities, Fraser Surrey Docks, is my riding.
     I do not know who this member has been talking to, but I have talked to wheat farmers, forestry officials, the pulse industry and beef producers. They have been complaining over the last number of years about the ineffective, inefficient rail freight service in this country.
    The Conservative government has failed for five years to provide infrastructure for an efficient rail service for our farmers. The government has failed to invest in the infrastructure funding needed to move the goods that our farmers produce.
    Mr. Speaker, yes, it is a good bill, and the Liberal Party will be supporting it, but it could have been a better bill, and that is what we need to emphasize.
    For example, I will make reference to one quick amendment moved by the deputy leader of the Liberal Party:
    For greater certainty, nothing in this Act prevents the arbitrator from including in his or her decision terms providing for compensation payments to be made by the railway company to the shipper in the event of losses incurred by the shipper as a result of any failure by the rail company to fulfill its service obligations as provided under section 169.31.
    The point is that the bill could have been made a whole lot better.
    Would the member not agree that this amendment highlights a lost opportunity to make the bill a better piece of legislation to the benefit of everyone?
    Mr. Speaker, the member is right about a lost opportunity. Before 2006, the Liberal government had many years to improve this situation and provide efficient and cost-effective service to our farmers, the forestry industry, et cetera. The Liberals failed on that. However, now they have crocodile tears, saying they support this bill and would like to introduce more amendments.
     They do one thing while in government, which is actually nothing, like the Conservatives who sat on this important bill for our farmers for five years, yet the Liberals will say exactly what we have been advocating for, efficient and cost-effective service, when they are in the opposition.
    I have no sympathy for my friend the member for Winnipeg North
    Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise again to speak to Bill C-52. When many people were going to bed last night, we thought we would be debating a different bill this morning. However, from time to time the government does like to make late-night changes to throw the opposition off and to play games.
    I now find myself in a position of supporting a bill that is only a half measure. Once again, a bill has come back to the House from committee wherein the Conservative majority has shown complete disdain for the testimony and recommendations made by key stakeholders. Once again, the Conservatives had a chance to significantly improve a bill at committee, but as in all other committees, it used its majority to shut down sensible and considered amendments, which could have easily improved this essentially flawed legislation.
    Canadians are watching and seeing quite clearly how the government lacks any of the accountability it once supposedly so lovingly cherished and promised to Canadians. The recent growing scandal in the Senate only acts to highlight the arrogant sense of Conservative entitlement that the members on this side of the House see every day during our work in committees. This arrogance will come back to bite the government in the rear. Sadly, it also means that Canadians end up paying the price for the government's bad decisions.
    The Conservatives had a chance to get Bill C-52 right but instead chose to do only half a job. They could have chosen to help strengthen a very significant part of our economy. Instead, they once again caved in to powerful lobbyists and decided to protect their big rail buddies, leaving Canadian shippers holding the bag and the costs.
    Poor rail freight service is hurting Canada's exporters, damaging our productivity and global competitiveness and costing us jobs. We cannot afford to lose international business because big rail cannot get its act together.
    Disruptions to rail freight services, as well as poor, unacceptable services, are costing the Canadian economy hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Idle manufacturing plants and mines, rotting crops and missed deliveries to outgoing ships due to inefficient and dreadful rail services are a daily reality for Canadian industry.
    It is important to note that rail transport is the backbone of the Canadian economy. More than 70% of all surface goods in Canada are shipped by rail. However, 80% of service commitments for agricultural rail customers are not being met by the rail companies due to such issues as delays and an insufficient number of railcars. The recent rail freight service review, which has been mentioned time and time again today, found that 80% of shippers are not satisfied with the services they receive. That means there is only a 20% satisfaction rate, which is abysmal. In any other industry, without this existing duopoly with CN and CP, businesses would be run into the ground for having such poor service records. Rail freight customers, from farmers to mining companies, are suffering from this virtual monopoly. In most parts of the country, shippers cannot choose between rail service providers because they only have access to either CN or CP, and that is if they still have rail service.
    Rail line abandonment has been brought up more than once today. A couple of weeks ago I was driving through Arnprior, which is not far from here, expecting to cross the railway line, but it had been torn up. In the prairie provinces, the short lines that give access to the agricultural industry and farmers to reach the main line terminals and distribution centres are being ripped up. In the last 15 years, we have lost more than 10,000 kilometres of rail in Canada, which has been torn up because CN and CP have chosen to change the distribution methods. There is really no cost to them; they will not suffer, because there is no other game in town.
     We have seen some real entrepreneurship in the prairie provinces where farmers, local municipalities and communities have banded together to bring rail service back into their communities. They are forming co-ops to save their short lines and bring their products to market in a more effective way, no thanks to the current government or the one before it.

  (1345)  

    Shippers are routinely suffering from service disruptions, delays and various forms of non-performance by CN and CP. Deliveries and pickups are done on time or are skipped altogether. Frequently, even the number of ordered railcars is not matched by delivered railcars, and sometimes cars are damaged. A broad range of industries is affected by the situation, from natural resources to manufacturing, including agriculture, forest products, mining, chemical, and the automotive businesses. A large portion of the goods in these industries is destined for export. Lacklustre rail service is thus hurting Canada's exporters' ability to compete in global marketplaces. For example, soybeans from Argentina enjoy a competitive advantage in markets like Japan and China because they are delivered faster and more punctually than soybeans from Canada, despite the fact that the total distance covered is significantly shorter for products coming from Canada.
    For years now, shippers have been voicing their discontent, but no concrete action was taken by the Conservatives. Bill C-52 would be a half-hearted attempt to level the playing field for industries that are dependent on reliable, speedy rail freight services. Hundreds of millions of dollars in economic losses, decreased competitiveness in the global marketplace and lost jobs apparently do not interest the Conservatives.
    Shippers are so desperate that any form of protection is welcome, which is why so many industry groups are supporting the spirit of this bill. However, the watered-down Conservative bill comes as a disappointment for many across those industries. Since 2007, a talk-it-out-and-wait tactic has been employed, starting with the promise of an expert panel review. The rail freight service review started in 2008. The independent panel tabled its final report in early 2011. Half a year later, the Conservatives initiated a mediation process that did not yield any results; it was more wasted time from the other side. Presumably, with the backing of the Conservative government, CN and CP management were unwilling to make any meaningful concessions. The mediation process, led by retired Conservative politician and university chancellor Jim Dinning, failed and his report was released in June 2012.
    Parallel to the end of the mediation process, my colleague from Trinity—Spadina tabled a private member's bill, Bill C-441, the rail customer protection act. The private member's bill, coupled with advocacy work from the shipping community, put pressure on the government to follow up on the promise to actually table legislation.
    It is also interesting to note that CN undertook a massive lobbying effort last year, first to prevent the bill and then to water it down. Dozens of documented visits to government offices and a media campaign showed its determination to keep the status quo. I would remind the House again that the status quo means that 80% of shippers are unsatisfied with the service that CN and CP are delivering.
    Bill C-52 would focus squarely on commercial agreements between rail companies and shippers from a procedural point of view, having the rights to a service level agreement arbitration process in the case of failed negotiations, but not at any other time. Also, it would not address the other elephant in the room: pricing and cost. Certainly it would give an arbitration process, but any penalties garnered from that would not go back to the shippers to compensate them for their losses and their costs; they would go to the government.
     The member for Elmwood—Transcona earlier today spoke about how they would have recourse to the courts. Yes, of course they would, but that would bring many costs and time and effort there, with no guarantees, of course. We should be designing bills that would not seek to actually draw people into the legal system. We should be avoiding having people unnecessarily go to court. As for the $100,000 limit on the fines, CN made $3 billion in profits last year, so a $100,000 fine could just be classified as the cost of doing business.
    The consensus of the shipping community was to deal with pricing later and tackle service level agreement issues first. While Bill C-52 would fall short on a number of stakeholder demands, it is prudent to support the bill as the shipping community believes it would be a good first step. The task now is to address shortcomings and strengthen the bill to the benefit of the shippers and also to ensure that they get what they need in future rounds of negotiations.

  (1350)  

    The NDP proposed nine amendments at committee that were summarily rejected by the Conservatives. As my colleague, the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine mentioned, there was only one Conservative question during all of those amendments, so they really were not interested in hearing about the suggestions we were making.
    All those industry groups that the Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of Heritage mentioned over and over again also submitted several recommendations to the committee, which the government also ignored. I would like to hear him answer why the government ignored those questions the next time he gets up to try to grill us on nationalization.
    I am looking at the time, Mr. Speaker. I would definitely like to have some questions from my hon. colleagues before we hit question period, so I will wrap up now.
    Mr. Speaker, I will set out a few dates in the context of this. In 1961 the NDP was founded. In 1962, it lost an election. In 1963, 1965, 1968, 1972, 1974, 1979, 1980, 1984, 1993, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2011, it lost. One would think that after losing 16 elections, these guys would finally understand that what Canadians want are governments that put their needs first.
    One would think that after the devastation in B.C., where New Democrats were supposed to win by massive amounts but lost when their leader turned his back on jobs and economic growth for the people of British Columbia, they would finally get it. Clearly they do not.
    Here they are in this House arguing to nationalize CN Rail. At what cost would that be to taxpayers? At what cost would that be to shareholders who might actually be in the gallery petrified that their investments are going down the tube?
    The New Democrats talk about the $3-billion that CN Rail made as if it were a curse, or a disease. My God, a company has made money in Canada and is creating jobs and economic growth—

  (1355)  

    Order. The hon. member for Scarborough Southwest.
    Mr. Speaker, what is a curse and a disease is a government that thinks it is okay to lose complete track of $3 billion and not have any shame about that fact.
    What is a travesty is a government that thinks that the unelected, unaccountable and entitled Senate should be sitting in decision of the bills made by the duly elected people of Canada who represent Canadians. The Conservatives obfuscate and deny; they block and they talk about how honourable these people are, when they are milking the taxpayers for millions of dollars, when they are submitting improper claims and then saying they were confused by the difficult one-page form. Well, if they cannot fill in a one-page form, they should not be here.
    Before I go back to questions and comments, I will just remind all hon. members that their questions and answers ought to be related to the matter before the House.
    The hon. member for Winnipeg North.
    Mr. Speaker, we need to look at the reason the legislation is before us today. It is not because of the Conservative government. It is not because the NDP is having a tiff. The reality is that we have stakeholders, such as our industries—agriculture, forestry, minerals, chemicals, fertilizers, oil and gas—and of course our manufacturers. They provide the jobs that Canadians really and truly want. That group of people led to the pressure for the government to materialize Bill C-52. They worked in co-operation with opposition parties. They want a sense of co-operation coming from the House of Commons and they are not seeing that. The government turned a deaf ear to even a simple, effective amendment from the deputy leader of the Liberal Party.
    My question for the member is this: would he not agree that this legislation could be improved if we had amendments that were accepted by the government?
    Mr. Speaker, I will apologize to you and the House, of course. I like to answer questions that are asked of me. It is a lesson the government would hopefully learn by 2:15 today in question period.
    The member for Winnipeg North talked about why we are here debating this bill. I would like to take him back to the root cause of the entire issue, which was when the Liberal government in 1995 privatized CN and did not put any rules and regulations in place to protect shippers from the problems that exist now. We can trace that all the way back to 1995. Then the Liberals were in power for another 11 years after that fact and never got off their butts to fix it.
    The member mentioned the deputy leader, the member for Wascana, who was in cabinet during that entire period. Therefore, I would like to ask him if perhaps he ever brought those concerns up with his cabinet colleagues and the prime minister at the time to actually deal with the problems shippers were facing then, as they are now, many years later?

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his very heartfelt speech, as always.
    Why, in his opinion, are the Conservatives defending businesses that abuse their market power? Why are they abandoning the regions? Why are they not standing up for farmers as well as mining and forestry communities in Quebec and Canada?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, it is inexplicable to me why the government chooses to abandon the regions at a time when we should work to develop regional economies, especially those that survive primarily on seasonal industries. There is more work and economic building to create jobs in those areas so people do not have to think about leaving or worry about having to travel 100 kilometres away so they can get jobs and not be kicked off of EI, and other things.
     We on this side would like to see rail development in Canada and infrastructure built in a way that will ensure Canadians' prosperity for years to come.
    I apologize to the member for Peterborough for not having a chance to get to his question.

  (1400)  

    The time provided for government orders has expired. The hon. member will have four minutes remaining for questions and comments when this matter returns to the House.

STATEMENTS BY MEMBERS

[Statements by Members]

[Translation]

Louis-Joseph Papineau Prize

    Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise in the House today to commend my hon. colleague, the dean of the House, who was recognized at the ninth edition of the Gala des Patriotes.
    The hon. member for Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour was awarded the Louis-Joseph Papineau prize for his outstanding contribution to the sovereignist movement.
    Elected to the federal Parliament in 1984, he has always been a key figure in our struggles to ensure that the values and interests of the Quebec nation are recognized and respected. A founding member of the Bloc Québécois in 1991, the hon. member for Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour has always loudly proclaimed his love for the people of Quebec and asserted their right to control their own destiny. He has been a key witness to the federalist parties' attempts to make Quebec a province like the others, and he is more convinced than ever that Quebec's future hinges on its independence.
    Today I commend this tireless crusader who came to the independence movement following both his mind and his heart and whose loyalty and passion have stood the test of time.
    Bravo.

[English]

Volunteerism

    Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pride to honour the efforts of one of my constituents, Mr. Gary Webster, for his volunteerism for the Canadian Executive Services Organization, CESO. CESO is a registered Canadian charity that works to improve economic and social conditions around the world.
    Mr. Gary Webster, the retired general manager of the Toronto Transit Commission, recently assisted the municipal government of La Paz, Bolivia, in providing technical and strategic advice for a mass transit project for the city.
    Mr. Gary Webster and volunteers like him are prime examples of Canadians dedicated to making this world a better place.
    I would now like the House to join me in congratulating Mr. Gary Webster on the completion of this endeavour and making Canada proud.

[Translation]

Municipality of Mont-Carmel

    Mr. Speaker, Mont-Carmel is a model of innovation and determination.
    Tomorrow it will receive the title of most resilient municipality of 2013-14. Mont-Carmel will host the eighth annual day of rural resilience and pride. A delegation from Les Méchins, the village that won the title last year, will hand over this symbol of rural pride to the mayor, Denis Lévesque.
    Elected officials from eastern Quebec, including the reeve of the Kamouraska RCM, Yvon Soucy, will also be there. The Kamouraska chapter of Solidarité rurale will lead discussions on taking pride in living in a rural area, and there will be a tribute to community builders such as Jean-Claude Plourde and Benjamin Drapeau.
    The regional economies are bearing the brunt of the often half-baked service cuts in the current austerity budget. It is the resilience of hundreds of municipalities such as Saint-Pamphile, Mont-Carmel, Saint-Cyprien and Percé that keeps people in those municipalities and helps them to enjoy an exceptional quality of life there.
    This is a major source of inspiration for me as I help work toward the goal of having an NDP government in 2015. An NDP government would stop doing away with public services in the regions and start working with the regions on creating a better future.

[English]

Al Strike

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today with a mixture of sorrow but also of celebration of a life well lived. This morning lifelong Bowmanville resident Al Strike died.
     Al was the leader of a multi-generational law firm in Bowmanville that bore the Strike name for three generations. He was known for supporting local business with his intellect and service, but, more importantly, he was known for serving our community.
    Without Al Strike, there would not be arenas or pools built. He helped with Community Care Durham, served on the board of Durham College and helped Valleys 2000. Al and his wife Anna, for over 50 years, supported the Lakeridge Health Bowmanville. He was a 60-year Rotarian, and two years ago he inspired me and others to help build a fish bypass with Valleys 2000 on the Bowmanville Creek.
    His was a life well lived, Mr. Speaker, and our community is better for it.
    My deepest condolences go to his wife Anna, and to his family and friends. The “silver fox” has passed, but his legacy on Bowmanville Creek will continue.

  (1405)  

Health Care

    Mr. Speaker, today there are dozens of doctors in the House and prowling the Hill, meeting with MPs and senators. They want to advocate, an unwelcome word in that administration, for the sustainability of medicare and the health of Canadians.
    The Canadian Medical Association has advocated in the past for tobacco cessation, heart health telemedicine, aboriginal self-government and bans on uranium and asbestos mining.
    They are the front-line workers who use evidence and clinical data to achieve health outcomes. They interact with patients daily. They enjoy one of the highest levels of credibility and trust. They know better than anyone that public health care is the number one issue for Canadians, who see it as a core value and not just a social program.
    The CMA is here to speak for patients who, in their cross-country conversations, said that they wanted effective, quality, efficient and timely care, all of which today's report by the Health Council of Canada says have worsened.
    Members should meet with them and listen to them. They have innovative and evidence-based solutions to offer that can only be of benefit to all Canadians.

Lynne Woolstencroft

    Mr. Speaker, I rise to note a significant loss to Waterloo region.
    For over 30 years, Lynne Woolstencroft served as a teacher, a school board trustee and chair of the board, a city councillor, a regional councillor and as mayor of the city of Waterloo. She was a loving wife, a devoted parent and a proud grandparent.
    When I was first elected as a trustee, Lynne welcomed me to the Waterloo County Board of Education. Later, it was my honour to follow her as board chair.
    Lynne genuinely cared for her community, its members and its environment. Her legacy will include French immersion programming, the Perimeter Institute, the Centre for International Governance Innovation and University of Waterloo's Research and Technology Park.
    To her husband Peter, her children Anne, Rob and their spouses, her grandchildren Maggie, Colin, Caitlin, Dylan and Liam, we share in their deep sense of loss and assure them of our prayers as they embark on the challenging journey ahead.

Komagata Maru

    Mr. Speaker, today, May 23, marks the 99th anniversary of the arrival of the Komagata Maru into Vancouver's Burrard Inlet. With 376 passengers on board, the Komagata Maru ended its long Pacific journey to Canada, only to be met with rejection.
    Due to the discriminatory “continuous journey” regulation, passengers were prevented from disembarking while the ship remained in Burrard Inlet for two months. Passengers were denied basic necessities, such as food and water.
    This was one of several incidents in the early 20th century involving Canada's exclusion laws designed to keep out immigrants of Asian origin and descent.
    The tragedy of the Komagata Maru marks a dark chapter in Canadian history, one that must be honoured by the recognition of the failures of our past and inspire us to pursue a more equal Canada for future generations.
    Along with my NDP colleagues, I will continue to push for a formal official apology on the floor of the House of Commons for this tragedy. An apology is long overdue and a necessary part of the healing and reconciliation process.

Birthday and Anniversary Congratulations

    Mr. Speaker, the old saying goes, “Just like a fine wine, everything gets better with age”.
    I rise in the House today to recognize a number of very tremendous milestones for some constituents in my riding.
    I am honoured to extend my best wishes to Thelma Baily and Edna Levett, who will be celebrating their 105th birthdays in the coming month. Thelma will celebrate her 105th on June 18 and Edna will celebrate hers on June 21.
    In the past 105 years, Thelma and Edna have seen two world wars, made it through the Great Depression and have witnessed the birth of the automobile, electricity and the computer, among other things. Indeed, life has changed a great deal since the birth of these two women, and I congratulate them on this tremendous milestone.
    I am also proud to congratulate Elsie and George Moss, Gordon and Lola Welch and Warren and Ruth O'Connor on celebrating their 70th wedding anniversaries this past month. For two people to commit themselves to each other for 70 years is certainly quite an accomplishment.
    Once again, I would like to congratulate all of these individuals on these incredible milestones.

  (1410)  

Alfred Rousselle, Ian Benoit and Samuel-René Boutin

    Mr. Speaker, it is with a heavy heart that I rise in the House today to pay my respects to Alfred Rousselle, Ian Benoit and Samuel-René Boutin, three lobster fishermen who lost their lives on May 18 when their boat capsized in a tragic fishing accident near Tabusintac, New Brunswick.
    We know that every morning fishermen set out, driven by a dedication to providing for their families and a love for the sea. They do so despite knowing the great risks and dangers that may lie ahead of them.
    Alfred, Ian and Samuel-René will be remembered for that dedication and for their strength and bravery, qualities every fisherman must possess.
    The Ground Search and Rescue, the RCMP, the DFO, Inspector Mark Bertrand and all the volunteers must be acknowledged for their bravery and aid in bringing these men home to their families.
    My heart and prayers go out to the families, friends and communities that are mourning the loss of these three great men who were taken much too soon.

[Translation]

Georges Moustaki

    Mr. Speaker, Georges Moustaki, with his Mediterranean face, the face of a wandering Jew and a Greek shepherd, and his wild hair, left us this morning, taking the byways he travelled all his life to finally join Félix Leclerc, Jacques Brel, Barbara and Georges Brassens in the pantheon of French song.
    Moustaki was a poet who wrote about intimate and universal concepts, and his songs have been sung throughout the world in every language by musicians from several generations.
    He was a humanist and pacifist who lived on the left bank. As a champion of freedom and simple living, he was an icon for an entire generation—a generation for whom love and the future of our planet were more important than all the gold, power or money in the world.
    Here are the lyrics of one of Moustaki's songs:
    

See the people bustling about,
Clothed in lies and deception.
You can be a beggar and proud of it,
Clothed in rags but not poor.

    Thank you, Moustaki.

[English]

Battle of Monte Cassino

    Mr. Speaker, last Sunday I had the privilege to attend the commemoration ceremonies of the 69th anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino, conducted by the Allies against the Winter Line in Italy in an attempt to break through into Rome. The series of four assaults took place January 17 to May 18, 1944. The Allied forces consisted of the United Kingdom, the United States, Free French forces, New Zealand, India and Poland, as well as our own fellow Canadians. The fighting inflicted over 55,000 casualties to the Allies. Finally, May 18 found the Poles taking Monte Cassino, and the road to Rome was open.
    Let me thank and congratulate Krzysztof Tomczak, commander of SWAP 114, for organizing the event, and the four heroes of the Cassino battle, Stefan Podsiadlo, Boleslaw Chamot, Ludomir Blicharski and Tadeusz Gosinski for attending.
    I would ask all members of the House to join me in paying tribute to all heroes of that historic battle.

[Translation]

Joliette Conservative Association

    Mr. Speaker, people in my region are tolerant but they are not fools. We had proof of that yesterday, when the president of the Joliette Conservative Association, Georgette Saint-Onge, submitted her resignation.
    Among other things, she accused the Conservative Party of impeding her activities and preventing local newspapers from covering one of her events.
    This is unacceptable in a democracy. I would like to acknowledge Ms. Saint-Onge's courage, which proves that, in Lanaudière, we do not let anyone walk all over us.
    I will close with a quote from the former president's letter of resignation: “In any event, the Conservative Party is headed once again for a brick wall in Quebec in the next election. I would seriously suggest that you not spend one penny more on political organizing in Quebec, because it is a complete waste of money.”

[English]

Leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday on the television show Power Play the leader of the NDP hinted that he would drag Canadians into constitutional battles without a serious plan. When asked about Senate abolition, the leader of the NDP said, “There are other things that will be on the table....Newfoundland, Labrador and Quebec are going to look at their historical angles and some sort of protection there, so we have to take that into account”. His NDP democratic reform critic admitted that abolition will be “at minimum extraordinarily difficult”.
    We have outlined our Senate reform plan both in legislation and before the Supreme Court of Canada.
    Why does the leader of the NDP want to get Canadians into constitutional battles without a plan? What exactly “will be on the table”?

  (1415)  

Apple Blossom Festival

    Mr. Speaker, every year in Nova Scotia's beautiful Annapolis Valley, we celebrate the arrival of spring with the Apple Blossom Festival. This year from May 29 to June 3, crowds will gather to crown Queen Annapolisa and join in the children's parade and the grand street parade. Visitors will enjoy fireworks, talent shows, art shows, antique tractor pulls and many other events that will be fun for the whole family.
    While this internationally renowned festival is now in its 81st year, we have some firsts to celebrate this year. For the first time we will be welcoming delegates from our twin festival in England, the Goosnargh and Whittingham Whitsuntide Festival.
    I would like to congratulate Rose Stevenson-Davidson, the president of the Apple Blossom Festival, as well as all of the organizers involved in this wonderful celebration. I would like to invite all members to come to Nova Scotia as we celebrate family, friends and fun at the 81st annual Apple Blossom Festival in the beautiful Annapolis Valley this spring.

[Translation]

Leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada

    Mr. Speaker, the leader of the NDP has a troubling secret. He has known about the political corruption in his province since 1994, when the former mayor of Laval, Gilles Vaillancourt, offered him an envelope to help him.
    The leader of the NDP only informed the authorities 17 years later. Even more worrisome is the fact that in 2010, he denied that Mr. Vaillancourt offered him an envelope.
    The member for Outremont must explain why he did nothing about this compromising situation. The Leader of the Opposition hid his inside knowledge of corruption from the public for two years before deciding to break his silence last week.
    Will the leader of the NDP offer to appear before the Charbonneau commission to explain what he knows about corruption in Quebec?

[English]

Democratic Reform

    Mr. Speaker, Canadians are witnessing the death rattle of an archaic, outdated and expensive anachronism. With false residency claims, double-dipping expenses and political stumping at the taxpayers' expense, the Senate has gone from an expensive nuisance to a national disgrace. It is more in sadness than in anger as Canadians watch this abuse and the ethical lapses unfurl. We were promised that things would be different, but instead the legacy of the administration will be $16 glasses of orange juice and an almost comical cliché of hog-troughing senators.
    Grassroots Conservatives must be horrified that this administration has more in common with Grant Devine than with Preston Manning. Conservatives squandered their chance to do anything meaningful with their minority government. When we ask ourselves what they have accomplished with their majority government, they abolished the gun registry and the Canadian Wheat Board. Whoop-de-do-dah-day. Pretty thin gruel for a strong, stable majority Conservative government. What a pathetic waste of an opportunity to build a better Canada.
    The Senate of Canada should be abolished. That is plain and simple.

Leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada

    Mr. Speaker, it took the leader of the NDP 17 whole years to reverse his story and come clean to Canadians that he was involved in a bribe offer from the former mayor of Laval. He has an interesting standard of ethics. First, he keeps it a secret. Then he misleads Canadians saying he was not presented with a bribe. Then he reverses his story when the police come knocking.
    He claims to be “proud” to have helped the police. It baffles me that the leader of the NDP is proud of hiding a secret for years and reversing his story when law enforcement gets involved amidst the biggest corruption inquiry in our history. I am certain law enforcement officers are not proud of his actions, or should I say inaction.
    The standard he has set for his party when it comes to dealing with bribery and corruption is appalling. It makes one wonder who else on the other side of the House was involved in such schemes.

ORAL QUESTIONS

[Oral Questions]

  (1420)  

[English]

Ethics

    Mr. Speaker, on February 17 the Prime Minister answered in the House that “All senators conform to the residency requirements.”
    The Senate audit report contradicted this and concluded that Senator Duffy's primary residence was Ottawa, not P.E.I., yet when the final report was tabled, this key paragraph had been erased.
    Last night we learned that the Prime Minister's former communications director, now a senator, helped whitewash the Duffy report.
    Can the government tell us whether anyone in the PMO was aware that this report contradicted their Prime Minister?
    Mr. Speaker, it is my understanding that the Senate report does reflect the findings of the auditor—the auditor, by the way, that both the opposition and the government agreed should be brought in, an independent, outside auditor.
    The report reflected that finding. I understand, of course, that new questions have been raised. That is why the Senate is looking at the matter again, and that is also why the Ethics Commissioner is looking into this, as is the office of the Senate ethics commission.
    These questions are being raised. They are being put forward. They will be answered.
    Mr. Speaker, the meaning of the deleted paragraph is clear. It reads:
    His continued presence at his Ottawa residence over the years does not support such a declaration and is contrary to the plain meaning of the word 'primary' and to the purpose and intent of the provision.
    Who in the PMO was aware of the details in the report? Who in the PMO was involved in any discussions about the Senate committee's work? Did anyone in the PMO play any role in removing this key paragraph?
    Mr. Speaker, as I have said, the Senate report, I understand, reflects the findings of the independent auditor, but new questions have been raised. That is why the Senate is reopening this subject matter, to get into some of these questions, which I think is the appropriate thing to do.
    I would also point out to members opposite and to taxpayers, more importantly, that there are opposition members on this committee who can ask whatever questions they want to ask.
    Mr. Speaker, answers like that are classic non-denial denials, just like the non-denial denial from the Prime Minister's former lawyer, Mr. Perrin.
    He says that he did not know about the cheque being sent, but was silent on whether he knew about the deal being negotiated. He did not say whether he played a role in implementing the decision that led to the cover-up.
    Let us keep this one simple. Were any lawyers in the PMO aware of what Nigel Wright and Senator Duffy were cooking up?
    Mr. Speaker, we are not aware of any legal agreement between Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy. It is as simple as that.
    The Prime Minister was very clear about that yesterday when he took questions from the media. He has been very clear about that and consistent about that. Those facts have not changed.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, what I understand from that answer is that the Prime Minister's lawyer may have been aware.
    When the Prime Minister learned about what happened, he did not demand a resignation, did not call the police and did not apologize. Instead, he steadfastly defended those involved in the scandal. Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that if he had known, he never would have let it happen.
    Why, then, would the Prime Minister say that he had full confidence in Nigel Wright on the first day of the scandal?
    Mr. Speaker, on Tuesday, here in Ottawa, and yesterday, in response to questions from the media, the Prime Minister said that he did not know until the news came out in the papers. That was when the Prime Minister found out what was going on.
    Because of that and because of Mr. Wright's statement that he had acted alone and that he was stepping down, the Prime Minister accepted his resignation.
    Mr. Speaker, in just one week, the Prime Minister went from having full confidence in his former chief of staff to being “not happy”. That is quite an about-face.
    The Conservatives are quite specific in their denial. They deny the existence of any legal documents, but they have nothing to say about the February 20 email.
    Does the Prime Minister's Office have any document—a memo, a handwritten or electronic note, an email, a PIN, a BBM, a fax, anything—regarding Nigel Wright's $90,000 payment to Mike Duffy?

  (1425)  

    Mr. Speaker, we are not aware of any kind of legal document or agreement between Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy. The Prime Minister was very clear about that yesterday, and we are repeating that today.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, if the Prime Minister is truly as perturbed as he claims to be about the Wright-Duffy scandal, he must explain why it took him nearly a week to come to grips with his chief of staff's wrongful behaviour.
    With knowledge of a $90,000 secret deal that perverted the course of a forensic audit and caused a Senate report to be doctored, the Prime Minister still expressed total confidence in Mr. Wright for more than five days. Why that long delay? Did the Prime Minister think he could bluff Canadians about this stunning lack of ethics in his inner circle?
    Immediately upon learning that the source was indeed my chief of staff, Nigel Wright, I immediately asked that that information be released publicly.
    This is behaviour that the Prime Minister believes was irresponsible and inappropriate. Nigel Wright says that he acted solely. He has taken responsibility and resigned, and that is the right thing to have happened.
    Mr. Speaker, any payment to anyone to influence the conduct of a senator is an indictable offence carrying jail time as a penalty under both the Parliament of Canada Act and the Criminal Code. It should not take a week to figure that out.
    Throwing Wright and Duffy under the bus does not make the corruption go away. The whole illicit scheme is outlined in an email, dated February 20. The Prime Minister's Office has that email. Will they table it today?
    Mr. Speaker, as I have said, this question was just asked by the official opposition. We are not aware of any legal agreement between Mr. Duffy and Mr. Wright whatsoever, in any format whatsoever.
    As my colleague knows, the Ethics Commissioner and the Senate Ethics Officer are both looking into this independently. The Senate committee is taking another look at the subject matter as well. Opposition members of that committee can ask any questions that they want. Rightly, there are new questions that have been raised, and those questions do need to be answered.
    Mr. Speaker, after the illicit $90,000 payment to Senator Duffy by the Prime Minister's chief of staff, Duffy scuttled Deloitte's forensic audit, and two of the Prime Minister's closest cronies, Conservative Senators Tkachuk and Stewart Olsen, doctored the Senate's report.
    Who ordered them to do that? Was it Mr. Wright? Will the Prime Minister remove Tkachuk and Stewart Olsen, the very same people who doctored the Duffy report in the first place? Will he remove them from the Senate committee that is now supposed to review that same report?
    Mr. Speaker, with regard to this report, as I said again to the official opposition, it is an important point to again reiterate that the Senate report did reflect the auditor's findings that there were inappropriate expenses that were charged to taxpayers by Senator Duffy. That was outlined in the report, but indeed, other questions have been raised, which is why the Senate has decided to open up this matter and to re-examine it. It is also why the Senate ethics office and why the Ethics Commissioner, as well, are looking into this matter.
    I hope that the member opposite and all members of the House would allow them to do their work and allow them to make a report so that we can, indeed, get all that information.
    Mr. Speaker, on February 17, the Prime Minister told the House that Mike Duffy met the resident requirements for the Senate, but he did not tell the people of Canada that the Senate had found that Duffy was ineligible to claim his status in Prince Edward Island. This key passage was removed from the Senate audit by Senator Tkachuk and Senator Stewart Olsen.
    Carolyn Stewart Olsen has been the Prime Minister's closest adviser for ten years. She is as close as one can get. Who in the Prime Minister's office made the call to Olsen?
    Now that the RCMP is involved, who helped Wright and who helped Stewart Olsen in this cover-up?
    Mr. Speaker, again, that is simply not the case. The Senate report did reflect the findings of the independent auditor. It reflected the findings that there were some inappropriate expenses that were incurred and billed to taxpayers. It also reflected that the money was paid back.
    New questions have been raised, which is why the Senate committee is taking another look at it, and that is the appropriate thing to do.
    Mr. Speaker, they need to get their story straight. Last week, they were saying that Nigel Wright was a hero for writing a secret cheque. Meanwhile, the New Democrats were calling in the RCMP. We are talking about two key advisers: one in the Prime Minister's Office; the other sitting on the in-camera review of the Senate.
    They say they want to help us get to the bottom of this, so who exactly has the Prime Minister called in to investigate? Who has he spoken to, and what phone records, memos, emails or cheque stubs have been handed over to help this investigation? Now that the RCMP is involved, what have they done to help?

  (1430)  

    Mr. Speaker, there are a couple of things, as I said. The Ethics Commissioner is looking into this. The independent Senate ethics office is looking at this as well. The Senate committee is taking another look at this matter as well.
    What Canadians expect from the Prime Minister is the leadership he has demonstrated in the House to move forward with Senate reform. That is why—
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    Hon. James Moore: We have put legislation before the House for Senate term limits and for Senate elections. We have actually gone further. We have asked the Supreme Court for a reference to tell us how much further we can go and what our mandate can be to move forward on these things.
    The NDP is full of rhetoric and self-righteousness. We actually want to move forward and reform the Senate.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister's leadership involved putting all his trust in his chief of staff. Carolyn Stewart Olsen, who doctored the Senate report, is the Prime Minister's former director of communications. She worked closely with the Prime Minister's former executive assistant, Ray Novak, his new chief of staff. It is therefore very likely that Mr. Novak is also involved.
    The Conservatives are unable to tell the truth in this scandal, but we have just learned that this matter is now in the hands of the RCMP, thanks to the NDP.
    I have a very simple question. At any point, did the Prime Minister tell Mr. Wright to take care of Mr. Duffy's mess?
    Mr. Speaker, as I said, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is looking into this, as is the Senate Ethics Officer. They will certainly consider the questions asked by the opposition. A Senate committee is also looking into this matter and the new questions that have been raised over the past few days. We are certain that the facts will be uncovered and that we are going to move in the right direction. Taxpayers will see real Senate reform.
    Mr. Speaker, the RCMP is also looking into the matter, thanks to the NDP.
    I understand that the Prime Minister may have asked Mr. Wright to deal with the incident involving Mr. Duffy, which means that the Prime Minister might be involved in the cover-up. In any case, he expressed his confidence in Mr. Wright when this scandal went public. Yesterday, the only thing that the Prime Minister—who is off on his own in South America—had to say is that he did not know about the $90,000 cheque.
    Has the Prime Minister talked to Nigel Wright about the shenanigans in the Senate since June 13, 2012, when the Auditor General's report was tabled?
    Mr. Speaker, as Mr. Wright himself clearly indicated in the statement he made following his resignation, he acted alone. It was not until later, when it was reported in the media, that the Prime Minister found out what was happening. The Prime Minister was certainly not at all pleased with Mr. Wright's actions.
    Mr. Wright resigned and the Prime Minister immediately accepted his resignation because this is not the type of behaviour that we expect from people in public life, and Mr. Wright did not act in the best interests of taxpayers.
    Mr. Speaker, I do not know how anyone else feels, but when I see the minister pretending he does not understand the question and beating around the bush instead of giving a straight answer, I get the feeling someone is trying to hide something.
    The Conservatives are refusing to launch an independent investigation into the Senate's spending scandal. They will not tell us whether they have talked to the RCMP. They will not tell us whether any documents about legal or illegal activities exist at the PMO.
    Could they at least tell us whether someone else in the PMO was aware of what was going on between Mike Duffy and Nigel Wright?
    Mr. Speaker, I strongly disagree with the preamble to the question from my colleague opposite. It is quite clear that the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is fully independent. The Senate Ethics Officer is fully independent. They are perfectly free to do their work and examine those issues. They will prepare their report and submit it. That is coming.
    Mr. Speaker, some 12 senators, the Prime Minister's former counsel and his former chief of staff are involved in a scandal of epic proportions and apparently no one in the PMO knows anything. Really? Nobody believes that Nigel Wright alone dealt with the Senate problems.
    Other than Nigel Wright, who else talked to Mike Duffy? Who ordered Carolyn Stewart Olsen to change her report? Who else knew about the dealings between Mike Duffy and Nigel Wright?

  (1435)  

    Mr. Speaker, Nigel Wright was the only one involved. That is what he said in his statement and that is why he resigned.

[English]

Justice

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday, deigning to speak to us from Peru, the Prime Minister said that Nigel Wright wrote a cheque for Senator Duffy for what he called “the right motive”, but the Prime Minister is ignoring that making a payment to a senator in relation to a controversy before the Senate or for the purpose of influencing a senator is an indictable offence under the Parliament of Canada Act.
    Can today's stand-in prime minister tell us why the Prime Minister continues to soft-pedal potentially criminal activity?
    Mr. Speaker, if the hon. colleague wants to quote the Prime Minister, I would encourage him to use the entire quote. Here is the full quote of what the Prime Minister said. He stated:
    That’s the right motive, but nevertheless it was obviously not correct for that decision to be made and executed without my knowledge or without public transparency.
    That is the full quote. It was irresponsible behaviour on behalf of Nigel Wright. The Prime Minister made that clear. Nigel Wright has resigned, and it was the appropriate thing to do.
    Mr. Speaker, the only wrong thing was not telling the Prime Minister or the public. That is what that quote says directly.
    Let us go back to Lima. The Prime Minister emphasized that Mr. Wright paid out Senator Duffy with Mr. Wright's own money, as if that somehow absolves Mr. Wright of possible criminal responsibility involving up to a year in jail under the Parliament of Canada Act and 14 years under the Criminal Code.
    Does the government front bench agree with the Prime Minister that Mr. Wright was trying to do the right thing when he used his own money so that Mr. Duffy could pretend to be paying back the $90,000 as his own money?
    Mr. Speaker, first things first. As I have said a few times now, the independent Ethics Commissioner is looking into this. Before my hon. colleague starts handing out these kinds of assessments, he might want to wait for that report to come back. That is first.
    Second of all, of course we agree with the leadership the Prime Minister has shown in ensuring that taxpayers' money is spent in a responsible way, not only in the Senate but also in the House and also by his staff. What Nigel Wright did was wrong. The Prime Minister was very clear about that. When he offered his resignation, the Prime Minister accepted it immediately, because Canadians need to know that they have a prime minister they can trust with their money, and they do.

Ethics

    Mr. Speaker, the motives were right, but the actions may have been criminal, and the government is patting itself on the back when Canadians want answers. They are fed up with these non-answers, carefully parsed words and doublespeak from Conservatives.
    Conservatives are now so desperate that they trust Liberal senators to get to the bottom of this scandal. We have asked for legal documents, but maybe all along we should have been asking for the illegal documents as well.
    Did the Prime Minister ask Nigel Wright or Carolyn Stewart Olsen to look into the scandal about Mike Duffy? Enough with the spin; just give us a straight answer, for once.
    As we have said, Mr. Speaker, no matter what it is that we say, the reality is that the opposition is going to attack.
    What is important here for taxpayers is that there is a process in place to examine all these questions, again, not just in 30-second exchanges in the House of Commons. We have the Ethics Commissioner looking into this. There is the Senate ethics office that is looking into this. These are professionals who will do this in an independent way and answer these questions, and we are entirely confident that Canadian taxpayers know that they have a Prime Minister who has put in place a process that will ensure that their tax money is not abused.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, ordinary Canadians do not have influential Conservative friends who can make their problems go away, but Mike Duffy does. Two Conservative senators, David Tkachuk and Carolyn Stewart Olsen, helped Mike Duffy.
    Why do they still have the confidence of the Prime Minister if he is so outraged by the situation?
    Mr. Speaker, the Senate report reflected what was found by the independent auditor the Senate hired to examine Mr. Duffy's expenses. That is the report that is on the table.
    Because there are other questions, as my colleague has demonstrated, the Senate has begun a new process, which includes Liberal senators. If he has questions, he can consult them. There will be a new report on this matter.

  (1440)  

    Mr. Speaker, as I said, ordinary Canadians do not have influential Conservative friends who can make their problems go away, but Mike Duffy does. I am referring to the Prime Minister's former press secretary, Senator Stewart Olsen. We know that the report on Senator Duffy was whitewashed.
    Who ordered Senators Tkachuk and Stewart Olsen to do this? Was it the Prime Minister, Nigel Wright or someone else in the Prime Minister's Office?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, before the Liberals really throw stones, they ought to recognize that they are standing inside of a very large glass house on this subject matter, because it was just two years ago that Liberal members of the Board of Internal Economy, Liberal members of the House, whitewashed and protected three Liberal members of Parliament who took $175,000 in taxpayers' money that was falsely claimed by three Liberal members of Parliament in their housing allowances. These are Liberal members of Parliament who are currently in the House. Before the Liberals start throwing stones at others, Liberals in the House had better start walking the talk.
    Mr. Speaker, I detect a measure of desperation coming from the other side.
    I have a simple question. Now that the RCMP has approached the Senate to access documents and information, can the minister tell us whether the RCMP has approached the Prime Minister or anyone in his office for access to documents and information?
    Mr. Speaker, it has not. Unlike under the Liberals in the Suharto affair, we do not tell the RCMP what to do. The RCMP operates independently.
    Getting back to this central question, the Liberals are pretty stridently self-righteous on this issue. However, the Ethics Commissioner is looking into it, the Office of the Senate Ethics Officer is looking into it and the Senate committee is going to do a new report on it, so on this issue the facts will be found.
    Before the Liberals throw stones, they have a glass house crashing around them, because there are three Liberal members of Parliament who were caught taking $175,000 in false housing claims. They are currently in this House. When are they going to pay back that money?

[Translation]

Government Appointments

    Mr. Speaker, it seems that the prerequisite for—
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    Order. The hon. member for Hochelaga.
    Mr. Speaker, it seems that the prerequisite for being a member of the new Social Security Tribunal is having close ties to the Conservative Party.
    History is repeating itself. The Conservatives used to appoint their cronies to the Board of Referees. In return, they illegally filled the party coffers. Now, the same wheeling and dealing is happening with the Social Security Tribunal.
    The tribunal will make decisions that affect employment insurance, old age security and pensions.
    Will the minister commit to enforcing the rules and ensuring that the Social Security Tribunal is independent?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, as everyone in the House understands, the employment insurance tribunals no longer exist. They have been replaced by our government with the new Social Security Tribunal. This is an important tribunal because the people who sit on it are making decisions that affect the lives of people in a very direct and personal way. Their decisions will affect people's livelihoods, for some of them at their most vulnerable time.
    They are also responsible for ensuring the integrity of our social security system. That is why they are selected on the basis of merit and why they have to meet the specific experience and competency criteria required to do the job.
    Mr. Speaker, just days after the government's EI board appointees were caught giving improper donations to the Conservative Party, which have not been paid back, it is clear that the minister is on yet another partisan appointment binge. The new Social Security Tribunal is being stacked with failed federal and provincial Conservative candidates, members of Tory riding associations and even a former provincial Tory cabinet minister.
    What will it take for the government to get the message that “who you know in the PMO” is not merit?
    Mr. Speaker, as I said, there is a rigorous process in place to review appointments to make sure that they are made on the basis of merit, because this is a very important tribunal. It is a tribunal that will make decisions affecting people's lives at a very vulnerable time. They also have to have the judgment and experience necessary to defend the integrity of the social security system that so many Canadians want to depend on when they are in need and to make sure that it is not abused in a fashion that will hurt those who are genuinely in need.
    That is why it is important that we have good people on this tribunal. That is why there is an important process in place that ensures that appointments are on merit.

  (1445)  

    Mr. Speaker, it feels like so long ago since the Prime Minister announced his Public Appointments Commission to scrutinize his government's appointments. Then, $2.5 million later, he scrapped it.
    Now, in this Parliament, only two of 43 appointments referred to the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates have appeared.
    I have a simple question. Can the government confirm if it advised these appointees that they are obliged to appear when invited by a parliamentary committee?
    Mr. Speaker, as I have indicated in the past, appointments made by our government are based on sound merit. They are people who are committed to serving the public in a fashion that many of us appreciate.
    For many people it is a significant sacrifice, but they do it out of a spirit of public service and a spirit of commitment to make their country a better place, much as many people in this House come here to do for the exact same reasons. That is why it is important that we ensure, as our government does, that the people we appoint to deal with these important responsibilities are indeed people of merit and substance.

[Translation]

Ethics

    Mr. Speaker, long gone are the good old days of 2005, when a certain person said, and I quote, “When does a government finally decide to be accountable? After five years? Ten years?”
    The person who said that was the current Prime Minister. At the time, the Conservatives were campaigning on their high horse of transparency. Unfortunately, that horse has been put out to pasture. After the Senate spending scandal, after the Conservatives stacked the Social Security Tribunal with their cronies, after the misplaced $3.1 billion, it is clear that times have changed.
    Why have the Conservatives become what they once spoke out against?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to stand in the House today and talk about the great plans we have with respect to open government.
    We are one of the world leaders on the world stage, through the Open Government Partnership. There are 273,000 data sets online right now at open.gc.ca available for researchers, citizens and entrepreneurs. That is the kind of leadership we are pursuing in many different facets of open government, and we are proud of it.

Canada Revenue Agency

    Mr. Speaker, our government is committed to cracking down on crime and rooting out corruption in our tax system. Can the Minister of National Revenue please update the House on the government's action to clean up the Montreal tax service office?
    Mr. Speaker, I do consider any misconduct by CRA officials disturbing. CRA investigated these matters some time ago and referred the findings to the RCMP. These individuals have not worked for CRA for several years.
    Over the last few years, we have worked with the RCMP to clean up the situation at the Montreal tax services offices. We are committed to protecting the integrity of our tax system and cracking down on crime, and we are pleased with this most recent progress by the RCMP.

[Translation]

Government Expenditures

    Mr. Speaker, while the Conservatives are busy forcing the budget implementation bill through Parliament at top speed, I wonder if they have had any time to look for the missing $3.1 billion.
    It has been 23 days since the Auditor General revealed that the Conservatives lost track of billions of dollars in funding set aside for public safety.
    Can the minister tell us whether they have found the money and if he has any documentation to prove it?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the hon. member and the other members of her caucus, in the same amount of time, could have merely looked up this public material that was passed by previous Parliaments in the public accounts of 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009. It is all there.

  (1450)  

    Mr. Speaker, with $3 billion unaccounted for and even the Auditor General unable to find it, is that the answer?
    Meanwhile, for the third time the Conservatives are forcing a budget bill through Parliament in their sham process. Some committees only have one or two meetings on very complex issues in Bill C-60 that deserve more attention. We had a witness just this morning at the finance committee who asked why he was there and not before HRSDC. Welcome to Conservative Ottawa.
    Why do the Conservatives insist on evading parliamentary scrutiny and what do they have against fiscal accountability?
    Mr. Speaker, fiscal accountability is what this government is all about. We have put forward a budget implementation bill that we are looking forward to the opposition members actually reading, understanding and supporting. It would provide measures for Canadians that would follow on our long-term plan of creating more jobs and helping businesses by reducing their costs so that they can create the jobs. That is what is important to Canadians, and I would encourage the hon. members to get on with their work at committee and get the budget passed.

Taxation

    Mr. Speaker, a party that ran on accountability cannot account for $3.1 billion. Wow.
     As well, a party that denounced an iPod tax has now introduced its own through the back door. In a bizarre twist, we learned just today that the Conservatives have long planned on making this tax retroactive, demanding that retailers pay back-taxes on all the iPods they have sold in the past, and even on some TVs. Obviously, retailers are simply stunned.
    Why did the Conservatives not even give industry a warning that these changes were coming?
    Mr. Speaker, there is no fact in that question. It is all false.
    The only people in the House of Commons who actually want to put a tax on iPods are the New Democrats. They are the only ones who want to increase taxes.
    IPods have been coming into this country tax free, and our government will ensure that that continues.

[Translation]

Government Advertising

    How hypocritical, Mr. Speaker. They have the nerve to accuse the opposition of wanting to put a tax on iPods, but three years later they are caught with their pants down, introducing that same tax.
    Since they keep saying one thing and doing another, they have to spend money on pitching their twisted logic to the public. That is why they spent $190,000 a minute on ads for a job program that does not even exist.
    Is the President of the Treasury Board using his new iPod tax to pay for these ads?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to answer the question. That allows me to talk about a fantastic measure in our new economic action plan 2013. That is the Canada job grant. Indeed, because we think it is such a great program, we believe it is important to communicate it to all Canadians so that they can see themselves, or see their own potential, in those commercials.
     I think it is very important that in those ads we see young women wearing hard hats. Women are an under-represented group in the trades. We are promoting their presence and will continue to.

Ethics

    Mr. Speaker, most ordinary Canadians do not have personal lawyers on retainer to help make legal troubles go away. However, the Prime Minister did. The Prime Minister's personal legal counsel at the time the Wright-Duffy deal was cooked up was Ben Perrin. Mr. Perrin issued a carefully worded statement this week saying he did not participate in Wright's decision to cut a personal cheque to reimburse Senator Duffy's expense.
    Never mind the cheque; could the government confirm that Mr. Perrin was in fact involved in negotiating the Duffy-Wright deal?
    Mr. Speaker, as I said, we are not aware of any legal documents associated to a Duffy-Wright deal and Mr. Perrin can speak for himself, as he has through his own statement.
    Mr. Speaker, three days ago the Minister of Heritage tweeted that “Nigel Wright is a great Canadian. Canada is stronger because of his service....” Now that the RCMP is on its way, does the member still think that is true?

  (1455)  

    Mr. Speaker, it may surprise the member opposite to know that very good people can make very big mistakes, and I think that is what happened here.

[Translation]

Search and Rescue

    Mr. Speaker, in his follow-up report, the Commissioner of Official Languages concluded that the Conservatives did nothing to implement his three recommendations regarding bilingualism in rescue centres. They did nothing to guarantee bilingual service or to ensure the safety of francophone maritime users. In short, Halifax cannot take over the activities of the Quebec City centre.
    Instead of jeopardizing the lives of francophone mariners, fishers and recreational boaters, when will the Conservatives finally commit to keeping the Quebec City centre open?
    Mr. Speaker, we are currently studying the report and the recommendations made by the Commissioner of Official Languages. We want to make it very clear that the Canadian Coast Guard will not consolidate the Quebec City marine rescue sub-centre unless it is convinced that the ability to provide bilingual services will be maintained.
    Mr. Speaker, it has been almost a year since the report came out. I would like the government to stop studying the report and start implementing its recommendations.
    The commissioner confirmed what the NDP has been saying all along. Unless proper language services are provided, the Quebec City centre should remain open. The Conservatives did nothing to ensure the safety of francophones at sea after they made the irresponsible decision to close the Quebec City centre.
    Will they keep the Quebec City centre open permanently, yes or no?
    Mr. Speaker, we want to make it very clear that the Canadian Coast Guard will not consolidate the Quebec City marine rescue sub-centre unless it is convinced that the ability to provide bilingual services will be maintained.

[English]

Justice

    Mr. Speaker, in all its forms, child abuse is an appalling crime that has a lifelong impact on its victims.
    I am proud of the decisive action that our government has taken, not only in support of those who have been traumatized by child abuse, but also to clamp down on offenders. This includes tougher sentencing and elimination of house arrests for child sexual offenders and investments in state-of-the-art child advocacy centres.
    Will the minister please inform the House what steps our government is taking today to further protect the rights of victims in Canada?
    Mr. Speaker, I know the hon. member is very excited because today the Minister of Justice is attending the grand opening of the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre in her hometown of Calgary.
     Today, our government announced an investment in the centre to help young victims and their families. We are all very proud to support Mr. Kennedy, who is a tireless advocate on behalf of children who have fallen victim to child sexual predators.
    Our Conservative government will continue working to protect society's most vulnerable people, especially children.

Government Appointments

    Mr. Speaker, the people of P.E.I. are hurt, ashamed and disgusted with the whole Duffy fiasco and the effect it is having on the province.
    Would the minister of ACOA show that someone over there has learned something about the mistakes of their boss, drop the talking points and answer the following question directly and honestly: iIs the ACOA minister's former provincial cabinet colleague, Kevin MacAdam, still being paid $135,000 a year for an ACOA job in P.E.I. that he has never shown up for, while claiming government housing allowances for living in Ontario?
    Is there another shoe to drop here in P.E.I.?
    Mr. Speaker, we will take no lessons on integrity from that party, I can tell members that.
    The independent investigation by the Public Service Commission did not find any evidence of wrongdoing or influence on the part of ministers or political staff in this matter.
    The Public Service Commission report clearly states, and I would ask that member to listen, “No evidence was found to support allegations of political influence in the ACOA investigations”.

Aboriginal Affairs

    Mr. Speaker, the government is once again trying to stall the equality in child welfare case at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, this time using as an excuse its failure to disclose tens of thousands of documents.
    It has already spent $3 million trying to have this case dismissed. It would have been far better off to spend that money preparing for the case.
    Would the minister commit to making these documents available and stop delaying the proceedings so first nation children get the justice they deserve?

  (1500)  

    Mr. Speaker, notwithstanding the rhetoric of the NDP, which opposed a simple bill like Bill S-2 to give rights to children and women on reserves, its members stand to complain about the process that is before the court.
    We have disclosed some 120,000 pages. There are more to come. It has chosen to go before the commission. We will follow the rules imposed upon us to give the documents that we have and that are relevant to the case.

International Trade

    Mr. Speaker, our government is committed to strengthening our relationships with our partners in the Americas.
    This week the Prime Minister and the Minister of International Trade are in South America, working to deepen our trading relationships and create new opportunities for Canada's exporters.
    Could the hard-working Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade please share with the House how our government's ambitious pro-trade plan is creating jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for hard-working Canadians?
    Mr. Speaker, our government continues to expand Canada's role in the Americas. Under our government, Canada has signed trade agreements with Peru, Colombia, Honduras and Panama, all agreements opposed by the NDP.
    The NDP cannot hide from its anti-trade record. It even sent an anti-trade mission to Washington to lobby against Canadian jobs.
    Our Conservative government continues to develop new opportunities to grow Canadian exports and create Canadian jobs.

[Translation]

Securities

    Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives are still trying to ram a single national securities regulator down the provinces' throats. The Minister of Finance says he wants to press ahead with his plans for a common regulator over the objections of Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta. Worse than that, he is moving forward after being told “no” by the Supreme Court. Even the Maple Group, which controls the TMX, has said that the current systems works well.
    Why is the Minister of Finance trying to impose a common securities regulator on the provinces when the current system is working well?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I would suggest the current system is not working that well when we talk to investors who want to come and invest in Canada. It is a very cumbersome system. They have to go through 13 different processes. We want to provide a welcome environment for investment in our country, and that is why we need to move forward.
    We are working co-operatively with the provinces, and it is a very good process so far. The courts have made it very clear to us that we, as a federal government, have the responsibility for capital markets and that we must pursue that.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Minister of Finance made very clear his obsession with securities regulation and his intention to circumvent Quebec's own securities regulator, the Autorité des marchés financiers, yet the current system is working very well. It comes in second among industrialized countries. The president and CEO of the AMF appeared before the committee himself to speak out against the inappropriate extension of the federal office responsible for creating a Canada-wide securities regulator and—importantly—to point out that a common regulator would be a step backwards.
    When will the minister stop trying to strip Quebec of its financial expertise?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, we cannot ignore our regulatory responsibilities or the decision of the court, which has said very clearly that there are certain responsibilities for capital markets, and they lie with the federal government.
    We firmly believe Canada needs a common securities regulator to better protect investors, improve market oversight and reduce costs for businesses. We are working co-operatively with the provinces, and that process is moving forward.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday, during question period, I spoke about a report prepared by the Popular Travelling Commission on the Right to Housing, which states that more than a quarter of a million households in Quebec have critical housing needs.
    Today, I am seeking the unanimous consent of the House to table this report in both official languages, for everyone's benefit and to allow my colleagues in the House of Commons to examine Quebec's troubling housing situation so that we can all work together to fix it.

  (1505)  

    Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    Some hon. members: No.

[English]

Business of the House

[Business of the House]
    Mr. Speaker, it has been a bit of a rough week for our colleagues across the way. We are coming back from a riding week with the government absolutely mired in scandal. The Prime Minister has lost confidence in some of his most trusted hand-picked friends and advisers and the unelected, unaccountable and under investigation Senate keeps giving him gifts he does not want. The Prime Minister has not even been able to answer questions in the House this week because he desperately needed to get to Peru, this week in particular.

[Translation]

    Two weeks ago, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons listed the bills that have become a priority for the government.
    Many of those bills have been sitting on the order paper for months, some for years even, not being debated. In order to study this long list of bills—and perhaps in the hope that we will spend less time scrutinizing their ethical lapses—the government has decided to sit until midnight for the next five weeks.

[English]

    I might add that this is without a budget for overtime for staff on the Hill to accommodate five overtime weeks. I wonder if my hon. colleague across the way is prepared to move the necessary ways and means motions to accommodate it. I suspect not.
    We will continue to sit until midnight, and I hope Conservatives will actually engage in some of these debates they so desperately wanted to see into the night.
    Could the government House leader tell me which bills he intends to call, specifically on which days, and at which point in the day and night for tomorrow and next week as well? Could he also tell me if he anticipates the Prime Minister to be here next week to answer some of the tough questions to which I think Canadians want and deserve answers?
    Mr. Speaker, as you know, our government has moved forward this week to conduct business in the House of Commons in a productive, orderly and hard-working fashion, and we have tried to work in good faith.
    We began the week debating a motion to add an additional 20 hours to the House schedule each week. Before I got through the first minute of my speech on that motion, the hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley interrupted with a dubious point of order to prevent the government from moving forward to work overtime. His was a bogus argument and the Speaker rightly saw the NDP delay effort as entirely devoid of merit and rejected it outright.
    During its first speech opposing the motion to work hard, the NDP then moved an amendment to gut it. That amendment was defeated. The NDP then voted against the motion and against working overtime, but that motion still passed, thanks to the Conservatives in the House.
    During the first NDP speech on Bill C-49 last night, in the efforts to work longer, the NDP moved an amendment to gut that bill and cause gridlock in the House. I am not kidding. These are all one step after another of successive measures to delay. During its next speech, before the first day of extended hours was completed, the NDP whip moved to shut down the House, to go home early. That motion was also defeated. This is the NDP's “do as I say, not as I do” attitude at its height.
    Take the hon. member for Gatineau. At 4 p.m., she stood in the House and said, “I am more than happy to stay here until midnight tonight...”. That is a direct quote. It sounded good. In fact, I even naively took her at her word that she and her party were actually going to work with us, work hard and get things done. Unfortunately, her actions did not back up her words, because just a few short hours later, that very same member, the member for Gatineau, seconded a motion to shut down the House early.
    I am not making this up. I am not kidding. She waited until the sun went down until she thought Canadians were not watching anymore and then she tried to prevent members from doing their work. This goes to show the value of the word of NDP members. In her case, she took less than seven hours to break her word. That is unfortunate. It is a kind of “do as I say, not as I do” attitude that breeds cynicism in politics and, unfortunately, it is all too common in the NDP.
    We saw the same thing from the hon. member for Davenport, when he said, “We are happy to work until midnight...”, and two short hours later he voted to try to shut down the House early. It is the same for the hon. member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing and the hon. member for Drummond. They all professed an interest in working late and then had their party vote to shut down early. What is clear by their actions is that the NDP will try anything to avoid hard work.
    It is apparent that the only way that Conservatives, who are willing to work in the House, will be able to get things done is through a focused agenda, having a productive, orderly and hard-working House of Commons. This afternoon, we will debate Bill C-51, the safer witnesses act, at report stage and third reading. After private members' hour, we will go to Bill S-12, the incorporation by reference in regulations act, at second reading.
    Tomorrow before question period, we will start second reading of Bill S-14, the fighting foreign corruption act, and after question period, we will start second reading of Bill S-13, the port state measures agreement implementation act.
    Monday before question period, we will consider Bill S-2, the family homes on reserves and matrimonial interests or rights act. This bill would provide protection for aboriginal women and children by giving them the same rights that women who do not live on reserve have had for decades. After question period, we will debate Bill C-54, the not criminally responsible reform act, at second reading, a bill that makes a reasonable and needed reform to the Criminal Code. We are proposing to ensure that public safety should be the paramount consideration in the decision-making process involving high-risk accused found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder. It is time to get that bill to a vote. We will also consider Bill C-48, the technical tax amendments act, 2012—and yes, that is last year—at third reading.
    On Tuesday, we will continue the debates on Bill C-48 and Bill C-49, the Canadian museum of history act.
    On Wednesday, we will resume this morning's debate on Bill C-52, the fair rail freight service act, at third reading.
    On Thursday, we will continue this afternoon's debate on Bill C-51. Should the NDP adopt a new and co-operative, productive spirit and let all of these bills pass, we could consider other measures, such as Bill S-17, the tax conventions implementation act, 2013, Bill C-56, the combating counterfeit products act, Bill S-15, the expansion and conservation of Canada’s national parks act, and Bill C-57, the safeguarding Canada's seas and skies act.
    Optimism springs eternal within my heart. I hope to see that from the opposition.

  (1510)  

Points of Order

Oral Questions  

[Points of Order]
     I would like to seize a little bit of that optimism from the House Leader, Mr. Speaker, and embrace that.
     About two months ago, I asked about a reference that was made to a letter that was written from my office in support of temporary foreign workers. It was referenced by the minister and several other backbenchers on the Conservative side.
    I ask the House Leader to produce the letter. This is my fourth intervention, I believe, because there has been no record of a letter. He assured me he would produce it.
    In the absence of that letter, am I to arrive at the conclusion that no such letter exists and that the minister was misleading the House, or will the government embark on making sure that letter is forwarded to me?
    I am not sure if the government House leader will come back to the hon. member or not, but we will see what happens in the days to come.
    Orders of the day.

GOVERNMENT ORDERS

[Government Orders]

[English]

Safer Witnesses Act

    The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-51, An Act to amend the Witness Protection Program Act and to make a consequential amendment to another Act, as reported (without amendment) from the committee.
    There being no motions at report stage, the House will now proceed, without debate, to the putting of the question on the motion to concur in the bill at report stage.
Hon. Gail Shea (for the Minister of Public Safety)  
     moved that the bill be concurred in at report stage.
     The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    Some hon. members: No.
    The Speaker: All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.
    Some hon. members: Yea.
    The Speaker: All those opposed will please say nay.
    Some hon. members: Nay.
    The Speaker: In my opinion the yeas have it.
    And five or more members having risen:
    The Speaker: Call in the members.

  (1550)  

    (The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)
 

(Division No. 693)

YEAS

Members

Adams
Adler
Aglukkaq
Albas
Albrecht
Alexander
Allen (Welland)
Allen (Tobique—Mactaquac)
Allison
Ambler
Ambrose
Anders
Anderson
Andrews
Angus
Armstrong
Aspin
Atamanenko
Aubin
Ayala
Bateman
Bélanger
Bellavance
Bennett
Benoit
Bergen
Bernier
Bevington
Bezan
Blanchette-Lamothe
Block
Boivin
Borg
Boughen
Boulerice
Boutin-Sweet
Braid
Brosseau
Brown (Leeds—Grenville)
Brown (Newmarket—Aurora)
Brown (Barrie)
Butt
Byrne
Calandra
Calkins
Cannan
Carmichael
Carrie
Casey
Charlton
Chicoine
Chisu
Chong
Choquette
Christopherson
Clarke
Cleary
Clement
Comartin
Crockatt
Cullen
Cuzner
Daniel
Davidson
Davies (Vancouver Kingsway)
Davies (Vancouver East)
Dechert
Del Mastro
Devolin
Dewar
Dion
Dionne Labelle
Donnelly
Dreeshen
Duncan (Vancouver Island North)
Duncan (Edmonton—Strathcona)
Dykstra
Easter
Eyking
Findlay (Delta—Richmond East)
Fletcher
Foote
Freeman
Fry
Galipeau
Gallant
Genest-Jourdain
Giguère
Gill
Goguen
Goodale
Goodyear
Gosal
Gourde
Grewal
Groguhé
Harris (Scarborough Southwest)
Harris (Cariboo—Prince George)
Hawn
Hayes
Hiebert
Holder
Hsu
Hughes
Jacob
James
Jean
Julian
Kamp (Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission)
Keddy (South Shore—St. Margaret's)
Kellway
Kent
Kerr
Komarnicki
Kramp (Prince Edward—Hastings)
Lake
Lamoureux
Lapointe
Lauzon
Laverdière
LeBlanc (LaSalle—Émard)
Leef
Lemieux
Leung
Liu
Lizon
Lobb
Lukiwski
Lunney
MacAulay
MacKay (Central Nova)
MacKenzie
Mai
Marston
Martin
Masse
May
Mayes
McCallum
McColeman
McGuinty
McKay (Scarborough—Guildwood)
McLeod
Menegakis
Menzies
Merrifield
Miller
Moore (Abitibi—Témiscamingue)
Moore (Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam)
Moore (Fundy Royal)
Morin (Chicoutimi—Le Fjord)
Morin (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine)
Morin (Laurentides—Labelle)
Murray
Nash
Nicholls
Nunez-Melo
O'Connor
O'Neill Gordon
Opitz
O'Toole
Pacetti
Péclet
Perreault
Poilievre
Preston
Quach
Raitt
Rajotte
Rankin
Rathgeber
Ravignat
Raynault
Regan
Reid
Rempel
Richards
Rousseau
Saganash
Sandhu
Saxton
Scarpaleggia
Schellenberger
Scott
Seeback
Sellah
Sgro
Shea
Shory
Sims (Newton—North Delta)
Smith
Sopuck
Sorenson
Stewart
Storseth
Strahl
Sullivan
Sweet
Tilson
Toet
Toews
Toone
Trost
Trottier
Truppe
Turmel
Tweed
Uppal
Valcourt
Van Kesteren
Van Loan
Warkentin
Watson
Weston (West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country)
Weston (Saint John)
Wilks
Williamson
Wong
Woodworth
Yelich
Young (Oakville)
Young (Vancouver South)
Zimmer

Total: -- 223

NAYS

Nil

PAIRED

Nil

    I declare the motion carried.
    When shall the bill be read a third time? By leave, now?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
     moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.
    Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise and speak in support of Bill C-51, the safer witnesses act.
    At the onset, I was going to thank the opposition members because up until this point they have been supporting this very important piece of legislation. However, it is very disappointing to see the games that we have just witnessed and their delay tactics in trying to stop this important piece of legislation from being advanced.
    It is important that witnesses be protected. It is important that police officers and front-line officers be protected. That is why we have brought forward this legislation, and it is very disappointing and troubling to see the opposition members delay this important legislation as they have been doing.
    Strengthening our federal witness protection program should not be a partisan issue. Rather, it is an issue of public safety and effective justice.
    In general, we are all in agreement on the critical role that witness protection plays in our criminal justice system. I believe that most Canadians understand that in order to give our police and courts the best chance to apprehend and convict offenders, we need individuals to feel confident in moving forward to help with investigations. In fact, protecting witnesses is vital to our justice system. These are individuals who have agreed to help law enforcement or provide testimony in criminal matters. Their input and help is vital.
    The end goal is to remove criminals from our streets and indeed make our communities safer. In many cases, these individuals have inside knowledge about organized crime syndicates or the illicit drug trade because they themselves are involved in these elements. The information that they have agreed to provide to authorities may be invaluable, and it could place their lives at risk.
    Witness protection is recognized around the world as an important tool that law enforcement agencies have at their disposal to combat criminal activity. In the case of organized crime in particular, these witnesses are often the key component to achieving convictions. To ensure a fair and effective response to organized crime, terrorism and other serious crimes, government and police agencies must provide protection to informants and witnesses who could face intimidation, violence or reprisals. The safer witnesses act contains a number of proposed changes to the Witness Protection Program Act that would do just this.
    These changes fall within five broad areas, and I will speak on those areas.
     First, the bill would promote greater integration between the provincial and federal programs by enabling the provinces to have their respective programs designated under the federal act. There would be some very positive benefits to the provinces' programs with these changes, but chief among those benefits is that the provincial protectees would be able to receive a secure identity change without having to be admitted to the federal program. As members know, under the current system, provincial witness protection programs provide a range of services on a case by case basis, including short-term protection and limited financial support. In cases where it is determined that provincial protectees require secure identity changes, they must be transferred into the federal program. That is the way the process works now. This can cause delays. It can be very difficult for these individuals to get the documentation they need and it can take a very long time.
     As we consulted with stakeholders, these problems were identified and it was deemed necessary to make these changes that are proposed in Bill C-51 to address this concern. Stakeholders from the provinces indicated that the requirement to transfer their protectees to the federal program for secure identity changes was cumbersome and time consuming. With Bill C-51, we would address this concern. We would do that by allowing the Minister of Public Safety to designate a provincial program, thereby allowing the RCMP to work directly with that designated program to help obtain secure federal identity documents for a protectee. Again this would eliminate a lot of red tape and process, and instead ensure that these individuals who are under the witness protection program receive the identity documents that they need in a timely manner. We would also provide a more efficient and secure process for obtaining these documents by identifying a single point of contact for each designated provincial witness protection program, again eliminating red tape and redundancy, making the process proceed in a more timely manner.
    The second change under Bill C-51 relates to secure identity changes as well. Federal organizations would be required to help the RCMP obtain secure identity changes for witnesses in both the federal program and in designated provincial programs.

  (1555)  

    To ensure a streamlined process, the RCMP would continue to act as a liaison between the provincial and federal programs. Again, it would be a better and more streamlined way to get the important identity documents that witnesses who are under the protection program require.
    Third, Bill C-51 would broaden prohibition disclosures, ensuring protection of provincial witnesses and information at both the federal and provincial levels. Again, it is a very important change that has been needed. We heard about it at committee many times in consultation with stakeholders. We heard that broadening the prohibitions of information that could be released was an important part of the witness program that had to be changed. This change addresses calls by the provinces to ensure that witnesses in their programs are protected from disclosure of prohibited information throughout Canada. I will speak more to this important change in a moment, because it really is a very critical part of the bill.
    The fourth change proposed under the safer witnesses act is to expand which entities are able to refer individuals to the commissioner of the RCMP to be considered for admission into the federal program. Currently, only law enforcement agencies and international criminal tribunals can make such referrals. Bill C-51 would allow federal organizations that have a mandate related to national security, defence, or public safety to refer witnesses to the federal program. These organizations may include CSIS and the Department of National Defence. This was a recommendation that came out of the Air India enquiry and the recommendation that who would be allowed or considered for this program be expanded. Our government responded by making these changes and by introducing Bill C-51.
    We feel it is so important that bill is passed, and we really hope that the opposition will stop playing any kind of games and work with us to get this important piece through. They are laughing, but it is really not a laughing matter at all, not when we are talking about protecting witnesses, which, in the long run, protects Canadians. We are talking about gangs, drugs and organized crime. It is not a laughing matter at all. It is very serious.
    The bill addresses a number of other concerns raised by federal and provincial stakeholders, such as allowing for voluntary termination from the federal program and extending emergency protection to a maximum of 180 days, up from the current 90 days. Right now, under the current legislation, someone could be under an emergency protection order for 90 days, but we want to extend that so that they could be protected in an emergency situation for up to 180 days. This received broad support from the witnesses as well as stakeholders.
    Together, these proposed changes would serve to strengthen the current Witness Protection Program Act, making the federal program more effective and secure for both the witnesses and those who provide protection. This is the goal of the program, to keep those involved and their information safe and secure.
    As I mentioned, I want to go back to one of the changes that is related to the disclosure prohibitions. Before I go into that, I want to say that we heard in testimony, whether it was from the police, Tom Stamatakis of the Canadian Police Association, or other law enforcement agencies, that the protections required are certainly not just for the witnesses who are involved in the witness protection program. We are extending that to cover the law enforcement people who have been organizing and working with them. These are sometimes undercover police officers or other law enforcement individuals who currently are not protected under the prohibitions for information. Bill C-51 would give front-line officers and law enforcement workers the protection that they need. Again, the Canadian Police Association is very grateful and supportive of this legislation.
    Currently, the act prohibits the disclosure of information about the location or change of identity of a current or former federal protectee. That is basically the only current prohibition. In stakeholder consultations, some provinces requested that these disclosure prohibitions be extended to include information about provincial witness protection programs and those they protect. The safer witnesses act addresses this concern with changes that would broaden the prohibitions on disclosing information in a number of ways.
    We are going to extend and broaden what kind of information cannot be released. I think all Canadians, including all members, would agree that when someone's identity needs to be protected, there are so many pieces of information that, unfortunately, could tip off somebody who would want to do them harm. Therefore, it is very important that we broaden the information that is prohibited from being released.

  (1600)  

    First, the safer witnesses act would prohibit the disclosure of information related to the individuals who are protected under designated programs, and we are going to expand it to designated provincial programs.
    Second, it would prohibit the disclosure of any means or method of protection that could endanger the protected individual or the integrity of the programs themselves. Again, that broadens it. The language is within jurisprudence and other language in the Criminal Code. This includes information about the methods used to provide or support protection and record or exchange confidential information as well as data about the location of secure facilities.
    Third, it would prohibit disclosure of any information about the identity or role of persons who provide, or assist in providing, protection for the witnesses. That is where law enforcement comes into play. Part of their job is to assist and protect witnesses. They need to be protected too. That is why the bill is so vital and why law enforcement and stakeholders across the country have been asking for it and why it is important that we pass the bill.
    Further, the bill would clarify language in the current act to ensure that these measures apply to situations where a person directly or indirectly discloses information. I want to stress that the bill also specifies that one must knowingly reveal this information for it to be an offence. This means directly and intentionally releasing information with the knowledge that one is releasing information that is prohibited. The bill specifies that if someone does it unknowingly, it would not be an offence.
    As with many laws regulating privacy and personal information, there are exceptions to these disclosure prohibitions. Bill C-51 includes changes that would further strengthen the legislation in this regard. For example, as stated in the current act, a protectee or former protectee can disclose information about him or herself as long as it does not endanger the life of another protectee or former protectee and if it does not compromise the integrity of this important program. Under Bill C-51, the wording would be changed to remove the reference to the integrity of the program and to clarify that the protected person can disclose information if it could not lead to substantial harm to any protected person.
    The current act also allows for disclosure of prohibited information by the RCMP commissioner for a variety of reasons: if the protected person gives his or her consent; if the protectee or former protectee has already disclosed the information or acted in a manner that results in disclosure; if the disclosure is essential to the public interest for purposes such as investigations or the prevention of a serious crime, national security or national defence; and finally, in criminal proceedings where the disclosure is necessary to establish the innocence of a person. There are some good safeguards in place regarding the prohibition of information.
    Under the safer witnesses act, we would change the wording as it relates to the RCMP commissioner disclosing prohibited information for the public interest. Instead, under Bill C-51, the commissioner may only disclose this information when he or she has reasonable grounds to believe that it is essential for the purposes of the administration of justice. Furthermore, we propose a change in the wording related to disclosure for national security purposes. Under Bill C-51, the commissioner could disclose prohibited information if he or she “has reasonable grounds to believe that the disclosure is essential for...national security or national defence”.
    Along the same vein, Bill C-51 contains several proposed changes that would authorize the RCMP commissioner to disclose information in specific situations. He or she could disclose information about both federal and designated program protected persons for the purpose of providing protection to federal protectees or for facilitating a secure change of identity for provincial protectees. The commissioner would also be able to disclose information about federal and designated program protectees in situations where a protected person either agrees to the disclosure or has previously disclosed information, such as if the protected person has revealed his or her change of identity to family or friends. Again, some of the same safeguards are in place.
    Additionally, the commissioner would be authorized to disclose information about the federal program itself, methods of protection and the role of a person who provides protection under the program. This would only be done when the commissioner had reasonable grounds to believe that the disclosure was essential for the administration of justice, national security, national defence or public safety.

  (1605)  

    This is a good and concise overview of those elements of Bill C-51 that relate to safeguarding and disclosing information that would compromise the safety of a protected witness or those who provide protection for that witness.
    I would like to close by taking a few minutes to talk about some concerns raised in committee. We heard some concerns from the opposition that this would mean rising costs. However, we heard directly from witnesses, including the RCMP, the Minister of Public Safety, the Assistant Commissioner of the RCMP and other stakeholders that rising costs were not anticipated.
    We also heard some concern that there would be a great influx of witnesses coming into the federal program. Again, witnesses and experts told us that the prediction was that there would not be a great influx. The number of witnesses accepted into the program fluctuates from year to year, but a huge number coming in now is not anticipated. Admission to the program is based on a set of criteria found under section 7 of the act. Only one of those is cost.
    Todd Shean, the RCMP Assistant Commissioner, stated, in his committee testimony, “since my time in the chair, never have I denied an entry because of costs”. Therefore, we were able to clear up the concerns some opposition members had. It was clear that no witness has ever been denied access to the program because of cost. Costs are not expected to rise under this new legislation.
    Regarding who would be administering the program, there were some concerns about whether it should be the RCMP. There were some recommendations that it could fall under the Department of Justice. We looked at this recommendation and conducted extensive consultations. It was determined that the RCMP was best suited to managing the program.
    There would be a clear distinction between investigative and protective functions to ensure objectivity with respect to witness protection measures, so there would be two separate organizations within the RCMP. One would manage the actual witness protection program and decide who should be involved in it, and one would be the administrative part, which would be completely separate.
    As I said at the outset, a strong federal witness protection program is critical to keeping our law enforcement and justice systems working effectively. We need to take these steps to ensure that individuals are protected and that our communities are safe. That is why our government is committed to strengthening our federal witness protection program. That is why we are committed to doing this to address the threat of organized crime and drugs in our communities and to make sure that informants and witnesses can collaborate with law enforcement. As such, it is vital that we pass this piece of legislation in a timely way so that it can become law and we can give law enforcement organizations the tools they need to keep Canadians safe.

  (1610)  

    Mr. Speaker, at the outset, I would like to state my objection to the suggestion by the member that anyone on this side was laughing about the program. I do not know where the idea came from. Nothing could be further from the truth. Since 2007, the New Democrats have been calling for the government to take action on the Air India justice's recommendations.
     Yes, it should be expeditious. We have been waiting six years. The government has finally brought it forward. Our members have co-operated fully, made good suggestions and been supportive all along.
    As I understand it, one of the issues with costing is that on some occasions, and maybe more occasions now that the ambit has been extended to gangs, the costs for the witness protection program can be downloaded to local enforcement agencies. It is fine for the RCMP to say that it does not need any more funding and does not expect more referrals, which seems a little odd, given the fact that the whole point of expanding the program is so that there can be more referrals. Even if the RCMP does not anticipate that, I have worked in enforcement agencies myself and know that it is something one cannot anticipate. I wonder if the member could speak to that. Could she also speak to the fact that the Air India justice also recommended an independent agency to review this because of issues that arose, including at Air India, and why the government is so adamant that it does not want an independent agency?
    Mr. Speaker, to address my hon. colleague's first question, I was just beginning my speech, and in fact, there was a lot of laughter from the other side. I was disappointed, because the opposition has been very good working with us to get this through committee, and I was looking forward to it moving quickly at this time.
    I will address a couple of her questions. First of all, just to clear something up for my hon. colleague, this legislation does not expand the program to include gang members. The witness protection program has always included gang members. I have heard that before, and there seems to be some misconception. The legislation would expand the program to enable referrals from national security, national defence and public safety. Certainly, gang members have always been a part of the witness protection program.
    Again, with regard to cost, we heard testimony from the RCMP and others. By the way, this is a federal program, so when we were talking about cost, and there were concerns about it, we wanted answers from the organization that administers the program. They were clear time and time again. I know that my hon. colleague was not able to be at the committee hearings, and I respect that, but her other colleagues were. It was very clear that cost is not an issue.
    There is a whole set of criteria set out when individuals are going to be accepted into the program, and cost is only one of them. No one has ever been refused because of cost.
    Mr. Speaker, I think most people recognize the value of the witness protection program.
     We are talking about the federal component. Is there a concern on the government's side regarding other jurisdictions that provide witness protection programs and the general direction they are going? Is the government relatively comfortable that they are well enough resourced? Are their numbers going down? Could the member give us some insight on that aspect?

  (1615)  

    Mr. Speaker, we certainly are working together and consulting with the provinces regarding their provincial programs, which is why one of the most important pieces of this legislation is allowing provincial programs to be designated so that they do not have to go through the cumbersome process, which is sometimes a very long process.
    Right now, when provinces are trying to get secure identities for those involved in their provincial programs, it can take a very long time, which is obviously a safety concern. We are now allowing them to be easily designated. Upon that designation, the RCMP will then work directly. That is one aspect of the work we are doing with the provinces and why we brought this legislation forward.
    We are doing a study on the economics of policing. Provincial witness protection programs work directly with the RCMP. The cost of all policing is escalating, but we are looking, even provincially, at some great examples of how things are being done more effectively.
    I think the witness protection program, being a separate entity, appears to be working well. These changes would help both the provinces, and of course, the federal program. The RCMP works very closely with the provinces, and we will continue to work closely with the provinces on their programs and ours.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would just like to point out to my colleague from Portage—Lisgar that I did not mean to laugh at the bill. In fact, these are very serious bills dealing with protection, privacy and, most importantly, public safety. I would never dream of laughing at that.
    However, I am laughing because we are being accused of obstructing and delaying the work of Parliament. I cannot help but laugh since this is coming from a government that has imposed over 30 gag orders to shut down debate on bills. That is not very serious and that is why I laughed.
    We were talking about funding for the program. Over the past few years, about 20 or 30 witnesses have been admitted to the program, whereas about 100 witnesses were on the list. Now, the criteria are being expanded, which is perfect. We really hope to see some changes to that.
    That being said, if the criteria are expanded, more witnesses will need protection through the program, which will require funding. However, the RCMP and other police forces are facing cuts.
    How are we going to pay for this? Will the provinces be responsible for part of the funding?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for acknowledging that he was indeed laughing. When we were talking about something this serious, laughter is not what is needed. Real work and real focus is what is required.
    I am very proud of the fact that our government has increased funding to police officers. We have the police officer recruitment fund. We invested $400 million across the country. As well, we are just seeing Bill C-42 passed, getting through the Senate, no thanks to the opposition that voted against it, which will help provide, among other important things, more funding to the RCMP.
    In terms of the witness protection program, it is funny how the NDP do not like the answer. When the NDP members asked witnesses directly if they needed more money, the witnesses said no, but they do not want to believe it. They would rather take taxpayer dollars and spend them frivolously instead of spending them where they are required.
    If we are told by the RCMP and by the witness protection program organization that they do not need funding, I for one believe them. It is really disappointing that the member, who was at those committee meetings, is saying that those witnesses were not telling the truth.
    I believed those witnesses when they told us that this is good legislation. In fact, I will read what Tom Stamatakis, president of Canadian Police Association had to say. He said:
    Mr. Chair, members of the committee, [this]...legislation...will help better coordinate...[it will] promote at least some efficiencies in a system that is badly in need of reform....the Canadian Police Association supports the adoption of the bill.
    We heard from the RCMP that it will not be an additional cost.
    Let us get this passed. Those members said they supported it. They introduced no amendments. They support the spirit. They support the legislation. Let us quit playing games and get this passed.

  (1620)  

[Translation]

    We have time for a short question and a short answer.
    The hon. member for Saint-Lambert.
    Mr. Speaker, strengthening the witness protection program will improve co-operation between local police forces and the RCMP. In terms of the fight against street gang violence, strengthening the program will make communities safer.
    However, according to the RCMP website, there are instances when the costs of witness protection may impede investigations, particularly for smaller law enforcement agencies.
    How do the Conservatives plan to increase the funding for enforcement, while also taking into account the insecurity caused by street gangs?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I will read what Todd G. Shean, assistant commissioner, Federal and International Operations, Royal Canadian Mounted Police had to say. He said:
    Mr. Minister, Mr. Chair, as the minister has stated, with the changes this bill brings about, the RCMP is comfortable that we have the resources within our existing resources to run an effective witness protection program.
    He also went on to say that those who needed protection, received the protection if the program was the appropriate one for them to receive that protection in.
    Again, there is seven criteria. Finances is really the lowest part of the criteria. There is a number of other things.
    We will continue to work with the RCMP to give it legislation like this one and others and we hope the opposition will support it.
    It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, The Environment; the hon. member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, Agriculture; the hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry, The Environment.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to seek the unanimous consent of the House to split my time.
    Does the hon. member for Pontiac have the unanimous consent of the House?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    The Acting Speaker: The hon. member for Pontiac will be splitting his time.
    Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead, who works very hard to serve his constituents.
    I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-51 at third reading. This bill contains measures that have been long called for by the NDP. Among other things, it will: expand the eligibility criteria for informants and witnesses; extend the duration of emergency protection; and speed up the process for obtaining new pieces of identification. Those are all good things.
    The Witness Protection Program Act, passed in 1996, sorely needed to be strengthened. In fact, we have been insistently calling for better coordination of federal and provincial programs and improved overall program funding since 2007.
    Even though we support the bill because we believe that it will further improve the program, we still deplore the fact that the Conservative government refused to provide additional funding for the program, knowing that the announced changes may well increase the number of beneficiaries, which will certainly increase the financial burden on municipalities and police services, because of the downloading of costs.
    At the committee hearings, some witnesses expressed their fears in this regard. On March 7, 2013, a commissioner with the Canadian Association of Police Boards said:
...we see problems with the ability of municipality police services to adequately access witness protection because they lack the resources... I want to emphasize that, while we support the intent of Bill C-51, CAPB has a duty to its members to ensure that legislation passed by the government does not result in a downloading of additional costs to the municipal police services that we represent.
    It is important to provide the resources needed to implement our changes. When a new piece of legislation has an impact on criminal justice, we must always look at the costs and budgetary implications. Our police officers look after the well-being of Canadians every day by protecting them without their even realizing it. It is our duty to give them the tools they need to do their jobs. I need to say this.
     To combat organized crime, it is obviously necessary to update and modernize our laws. That is what Bill C-51 does. Doing undercover work in the underworld is complicated, time-consuming and dangerous. The police need informers and informants if they are to infiltrate criminal organizations.
     Bill C-51 improves protection for witnesses and informants who help the police, and it also improves the ability to make use of these sources of information. This is important. We want those who combat street gangs to know that giving gang members who want to leave the gang access to the program will be an important additional tool to help them eliminate the problem.
     Organized crime is growing with alarming speed in Canada, particularly in Quebec, where my riding is located.
     Through this support, the NDP is committed to building safer communities. One way of doing this is to improve the witness protection program to ensure that our constituents can live in safe neighbourhoods and cities and to provide the various police forces with additional tools to combat street gangs and organized crime. It might also provide added protection for our police officers.

  (1625)  

     Needless to say, the more information is available to the police, the better they will be able to do their jobs and the better they will be protected.
     The federal witness protection program has long been criticized because of its strict eligibility criteria, its poor coordination with federal programs and the small number of witnesses admitted to the program. Furthermore, only 30 of the 108 applications examined were approved in 2012.
     Since the Witness Protection Program Act was passed in 1996, the Liberal and Conservative governments have done very little to respond to criticism of the system, even though a number of bills have been introduced in the House of Commons to deal with some parts of the protection program, including the protection of witnesses in cases of family violence, which was supported by the NDP, but rejected by the Liberal government of the day. The basic issues of eligibility, coordination and funding have never been addressed.
     That is why this bill is essentially positive. We hope that the Conservatives will offer the support that local police organizations need to ensure that witnesses will come forward in matters such as street gangs. The safety and welfare of the whole population is at stake. The more informants feel that they are protected, the more likely they will be to come forward and work with the police. We will give these people a real chance to change their lives and contribute to the well-being of their families and the community by attempting, through the information they provide, to rein in and perhaps even eliminate street gangs.
     The government is responsible for giving people the tools they need to achieve their full potential. However, we need to be able to act upon our convictions. I want to reiterate that additional funds would have enabled municipal police forces to do more. I nevertheless maintain that the witness protection program is often an essential tool for encouraging people to work with the police.
     We recognize that the bill is proposing significant improvements and a better process for supporting provincial witness protection programs. The bill would broaden the scope of the program to include national security agencies. That is another good thing.
     Our view is that strengthening the witness protection program will improve public safety and help the various police forces to combat violence. It is therefore because of my desire for change that I endorse Bill C-51 and give my full support to all the police officers in my riding who help to make the towns and cities in Pontiac safer.

  (1630)  

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Pontiac for his very fine speech.
    The Liberals have every right to criticize the Conservative government, because it has not done enough with Bill C-51. However, with respect to eligibility and lack of funding, why did the Liberals not respond to criticism of the witness protection program when they were in power and had the chance? In other words, why do they continue to say one thing and do another?
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question.
    It is customary for the Liberal Party to say one thing and do another. I cannot really say why. It is an oversight. I imagine that the Liberals were distracted by the string of scandals that hit their government. It is difficult to focus on real issues, important issues, when you are continually in trouble.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I always find it somewhat interesting being dated, quite possibly, by the New Democrats as they try to rewrite history.
    It is important to recognize that it was the Liberal Party that brought in the witness protection program legislation that was required. I suspect he will find that even the former leader did not ask the types of questions to enhance the legislation back then. He has to be very careful when dealing with the issue of ethics. All he has to do is look at his own front bench, where there is a question mark today.
    My question to the member is this. I wonder if he could provide some thoughts on whether New Democrats feel there was a need to make amendments to this legislation, or do they think about the legislation now as they would have likely done back in 1994 or 1996, when the legislation was first introduced, and they did not feel it appropriate to bring in amendments?
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his rather pointed question. I guess I could call it that. If it was introduced by a Liberal government, then why not give credit where credit is due? It was introduced, but we cannot just introduce legislation without perfecting it. We cannot be like the golden goose, kind of lay the egg and then leave it to rot. It seems to me that is not the right approach.
    If we want to talk about ethics, the member is grasping at very few straws. All I need to do, given that I am from the province of Quebec, is put a couple of words together and talk about the sponsorship scandal.

  (1635)