Madam Chair, I'll start, with your permission.
CATSA was established on April 1, 2002, and is an agent crown corporation fully funded by parliamentary appropriations and accountable to Parliament through the Minister of Transport.
CATSA's mandate consists of four areas of aviation security: pre-board screening, which is the screening of passengers and their belongings prior to their entry into the secure area of an air terminal building; hold baggage screening, which is the screening of passengers' checked or hold baggage to prevent the boarding of prohibited items; non-passenger screening, which is the random screening of non-passengers accessing restricted areas at the highest-risk airports; the restricted access identity card, the program which uses iris and fingerprint biometric identifiers to allow non-passengers access to the restricted area of airports.
CATSA is expected to screen over 61 million passengers and their belongings in fiscal year 2016-17. Through the supplementary estimates (A), CATSA is seeking approval to access approximately $113 million in funds earmarked in budget 2014 for enhanced non-passenger screening for fiscal year 2016-17 in order to continue to support the strengthened International Civil Aviation Organization non-passenger screening standard.
This program, which was based on a Transport Canada risk assessment, increases CATSA non-passenger screening coverage to 100% presence at designated restricted area access points in the air terminal building at the highest-risk airports. It also introduced a screening program for non-passengers and vehicles that have access to the wider commercial apron of an airport.
In addition to these funds, CATSA is seeking approval of an additional $29 million in operating funding for 2016-17. These funds will be used to deliver a wait time service level similar to that of 2015-16. Last year, over 85% of passengers were screened in 15 minutes or less at Canada's largest airports. The funding will also accommodate new, upcoming operational changes primarily due to changes in passenger flows at major airports, and to support airport economic development plans.
I'm here today with Omar Rashed, CATSA's acting vice-president and chief financial officer, to answer the committee's questions on the supplementary estimates (A) for CATSA.
Subject to your questions, that completes my statement.
We have a short presentation that will provide the committee with some background and context. If you have the slides, I'd ask you to look at slide two.
Just to provide a bit of background, Marine Atlantic is a critical transportation link of the Trans-Canada Highway between the island of Newfoundland and the mainland. We fulfill Canada's obligation to provide a freight and passenger ferry service between the island and Nova Scotia under the 1949 terms of union between Canada and Newfoundland. The essential nature of the service was recognized a number of years ago by the Canada Industrial Relations Board when we were designated an essential lifeline service.
We move residents of the island, non-resident tourists, and just about any type of product that you can imagine, from paper towels to medical oxygen. We carry about half the commercial goods on and off the island, and we play an important role in the business community of eastern Canada. We also play an important role in supporting Newfoundland's $1-billion tourism industry. In terms of statistics, last year we carried about 300,000 people, over 100,000 passenger vehicles, and close to 100,000 commercial vehicles.
Slide three has a picture of our fleet, which comprises four large RoPax super ferries. With the Government of Canada's support, we recently purchased two of these vessels: the MV Blue Puttees and the MV Highlanders. Two of the other vessels we own, the MV Leif Ericson, since 2000, and the MV Atlantic Vision, we lease from a European company.
All four vessels are required to carry the traffic during the peak summer season, and we regularly utilize three of the vessels during the winter months. We do have challenges during the summer months if one of these vessels suffers any mechanical breakdown, so an ongoing asset renewal and a rock-solid maintenance program are critical to our success. The fourth vessel acts as a backup during the winter months and allows us to complete vessel refits in the spring, all of which reduces the risk profile of the service.
Safety, of course, is absolutely paramount, given the harsh weather conditions we encounter in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where high winds and significant wave heights can occur at any time during the year. Our ships are also designed to navigate through ice, which allows us to operate during the late winter and early spring, when we often encounter ice conditions in the gulf.
Slide four provides a familiar reference in terms of the size of our vessels. The MV Blue Puttees, which is pictured here, can carry about two and a half kilometres of road traffic, which is the equivalent of 525 passenger vehicles, plus more than 700 passengers and crew.
Slides five and six demonstrate some of the improvements we've made to the service over the last several years. With the excellent support of the Government of Canada and our friends at Transport Canada, we've made significant changes to our fleet, our infrastructure, our business practices, operations, internal processes, and so on. We deliver our service much more efficiently as a result.
In 2009, fewer than half of our customers were highly satisfied with our service, and I'm happy to report to the committee this improved to over 75% last year. In fact, some of our commercial customers indicate the level of service they receive today is the best they've ever seen.
As you can see on slide five, we are moving more traffic with fewer sailings, which greatly improves efficiency as well as reduces the risks to the maritime environment. Fuel consumption is dramatically down, which reduces environmental emissions as well as costs. We've also introduced new food service offerings, and we offer more cabins on our service.
Improved service has allowed us to generate more revenue which, when coupled with better cost control, has allowed us to increase our cost recoveries, and more importantly, deliver greater value to our customers and to the Canadian taxpayer.
Slide six highlights some of the metrics we track and how they've improved over the last several years. I'd like to draw your attention to our on-time performance. Excluding weather delays, it improved from under 70% in 2009 to over 90% last year. Including weather delays, it was still over 87%. By way of comparison, our numbers were better than any major airline in North America last year, according to FlightStats, which presented the top performer award to Alaskan Airlines in 2015 for an on-time performance of 85%. Needless to say, Marine Atlantic's reputation has improved dramatically over the last several years, something our board of directors has been heavily focused on, and something that our employees have been proud to deliver.
Slide seven indicates the amounts in supplementary estimates (A) which total $6.1 billion. That amount funds three important projects that are highlighted on the slide: mooring system upgrades, fender upgrades, and some replacement of the storm sewer in Port aux Basques.
With that, Madam Chair, I would like to thank you and the committee members for your attention. Mr. Leamon and I would be pleased to provide any further information that you require.
Madam Chair, ladies and gentlemen of the committee, hello to everyone from Montreal. I am Martin R. Landry, chief commercial officer at VIA Rail Canada. I am pleased to be here with you today with our chief financial officer, my colleague Patricia Jasmin.
Created by an order in council in 1977, VIA Rail operates a national passenger rail service on behalf of the Government of Canada providing intercity, regional, and essential remote rail transportation services. Our vision is to provide a safe, efficient, reliable, and environmentally sustainable transportation service that meets the needs of Canadian travellers.
We're proud to serve over 400 communities from sea to sea to sea across a rail network of some 12,500 kilometres. Today you've called on us to answer your questions regarding $6.9 million in funding that has been presented in the supplementary estimates (A). The submission can be broken down into three different initiatives.
First, there's an allotment of funds to address the decontamination of VIA Rail property, which forms part of the broader federal remediation plan to address contaminated sites.
In addition, this submission also requests authority to spend a portion of the $34 million in VIA Rail's maintenance centres and stations as outlined in budget 2016. Specifically, we're requesting authorization for $3 million for upgrades to VIA Rail's maintenance centres in Toronto and Montreal. This includes updates to various mechanical and electrical systems, heating and ventilation systems, roof repairs, water treatment, yard trackage, and other work to ensure continued compliance to regulations and to provide for efficient operations.
We're also requesting $3.8 million for various upgrades to our stations in the Quebec City-Windsor corridor, including similar infrastructure work to what was mentioned for the maintenance centres, as well as platform improvements.
As you know, passenger rail transportation is a capital intense business. As such, there are significant investments required to maintain our aging assets to ensure the safety and comfort of our customers. For instance, as you may know, we operate the oldest fleet in North America. Although the life expectancy of passenger trains is typically in the 25 to 30 years range, the average age of our rolling stock is over 40 years old. The advanced age of our trains combined with the stress of running over freight tracks takes a significant toll on our trains. This, when added with the declining on-time performance resulting from sharing tracks with freight railways has played a major role in the decline of ridership over the last several years.
That is why VIA Rail was pleased to see budget 2016 announce investments in pre-procurement activities for new rolling stock for VIA Rail, as well as a commitment to further study a proposal for a high-frequency rail service within the corridor that could see VIA Rail operate on dedicated tracks and therefore offer better frequencies, improved on-time performance, and reduced trip times for our customers.
We recognize that investing in sustainable transportation infrastructure, while also addressing the harmful effects that highway congestion has on the environment and climate change, is among the Government of Canada's priorities. This initiative offers clear economic and environmental benefits through job creation and the anticipated increase in labour productivity. Moreover, our plan will lead to significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions. We anticipate that this more modern service will substantially increase ridership, thereby also reducing the number of car trips per year. Designed and planned by our management team, this initiative is specifically aimed at finding permanent solutions to our recurring operating deficit and the very slow growth in ridership.
We believe that this plan could not only improve the mobility and productivity of Canadians by providing them greater sustainable travel options, but would also do so in a fiscally responsible way by reducing VIA Rail's reliance on the federal budget.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate the commitment of the entire VIA Rail team to continue to deliver a safe, comfortable, and environmentally sustainable passenger rail service on behalf of the Government of Canada. We're excited about Canada's future and how sustainable transportation alternatives like passenger rail will play an even more important role in connecting Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
My colleague and I are pleased to take your questions.
Now that you have heard from three of our partners in the Transport portfolio, I will give you a few remarks on what is in the request for supplementary estimates (A) for Transport Canada.
You will note that we are requesting a total increase in our estimates of $125.9 million. This is to assist the department in continuing to provide a safe, secure, efficient, and environmentally responsible transportation system. The most significant amount listed is for the ferry services contribution program. This is above and beyond the amount that Marine Atlantic has spoken about. Budget 2016 provided approximately $51.4 million to support three ferry services in Atlantic Canada and eastern Quebec up to March 31, 2017, so it is one year of funding. The services that receive this funding operate between Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Quebec and Souris, P.E.I.; between Wood Islands, P.E.I. and Caribou, Nova Scotia; and between Saint John, New Brunswick and Digby, Nova Scotia.
As well, the funding is provided to take out of service the Princess of Acadia, which was a vessel that was replaced by a new vessel called the Fundy Rose last July. We now need to dismantle this vessel because it has contaminants on board and it is no longer safe to operate. The requested funding will be provided to the ferry operators to cover their operating deficits and expenditures and to maintain and repair the Transport Canada assets, which include the vessels as well as the terminals that these services operate between.
The second amount of funding for Transport Canada is related to climate change and air pollution. This two-year bridge funding, which was announced in budget 2016, will allow Transport Canada to continue efforts to reduce air emissions from transportation and to improve the resilience of the transportation system in the north to address the impacts of climate change and extreme weather conditions.
The third item is for $22.6 million. It is operating funding related to the assessment, management, and remediation of federal contaminated sites, otherwise known as the federal contaminated sites action plan, of which we are one of several partners in the federal government. Transport Canada is responsible for the management of 379 contaminated sites across the country. These stem from a history of commercial and industrial activity at Transport Canada facilities such as airports and ports. The department also has assessment and remediation obligations linked with the divestiture of departmental lands and facilities.
Now I will speak about the funding that was provided as part of the infrastructure initiative. We are asking for $17.88 million of new funding to cover three separate elements: $4.8 million would allow Transport Canada to address urgent health- and safety-related capital projects at Transport Canada-owned airports and ports; $1.2 million would allow Transport Canada to build an exterior barrier for crash testing of alternative fuel vehicles at our state-of-the-art motor vehicle test centre in Blainville, Quebec; and $11.8 million for the remediation of sites, but not part of the federal contaminated sites program. These would be other sites that Transport Canada owns.
As well, in supplementary estimates (A) we are asking for authority for $2.67 million to allow our inspectors to continue to inspect foreign tankers for another year, as well as $974,000 that is being requested to allow us to meet our legislative requirements under the northern territorial environmental assessment regimes to meet the service standards for northern projects. This is a technical obligation we have to the boards that review projects in the north. As well, $932,000 is being requested to allow Transport Canada to continue its current ballast water program, which works to prevent invasive species from entering Canadian waters, and $2.59 million in statutory appropriations which are required for employee benefit plans for the salary dollars included in these estimates.
While I appreciate this might be a lot of information to digest, I and my colleague, the CFO, would be happy to take questions in terms of the details.
I will turn it over now to Yazmine Laroche.
Thank you all for inviting us to be here with you again. It is a pleasure to see you.
I am accompanied by our assistant deputy minister for corporate services and chief financial officer, Darlene Boileau, who will be more than happy to answer the tough questions.
We have been invited here today to speak to you about Infrastructure Canada's supplementary estimates (A), which were tabled in the House of Commons on May 10.
Before I get into the details of the funds that we are requesting, I would like to talk a bit about the work that the department has done to date, the work that will be supported by the funds we are requesting.
During his last appearance, spoke about the Government of Canada's commitment to doubling federal investment in public infrastructure in the next decade. Over the next 10 years, that represents $60 billion in new investments focused on public transit, green infrastructure and social infrastructure.
In budget 2016, the federal government announced that phase one of its infrastructure plan would provide immediate investments of $11.9 billion, including: $3.4 billion to upgrade and improve public transit systems; $5 billion for investments in water, waste-water, and green infrastructure projects; and $3.4 billion for social infrastructure, including affordable housing, early learning and child care, cultural and recreational infrastructure, and community health care facilities in first nation communities.
As a department, we moved quickly to get as much information as we could to our provincial, territorial, municipal, and stakeholder partners.
In keeping with the department's commitment to transparency, the letters that sent to his provincial and territorial counterparts, which provided details of the funding that will be allocated to the public transit infrastructure fund and to the clean water and waste water fund, were published on the Infrastructure Canada website.
More recently, on May 4, reached out to members of Parliament and asked them to be involved in the development of phase two, which is the long-term infrastructure strategy. The minister has asked parliamentarians to indicate to him what areas of investment are important to their communities and to their constituents. This will help identify what areas require federal involvement, and what kind of funding or programming needs to be developed. This feedback will be invaluable in designing the longer-term infrastructure plan.
Returning to phase 1, you can see that the department has requested additional funding of close to $1.4 billion in the supplementary estimates (A). This funding will be allocated to our programs as follows: $844 million for the public transit infrastructure fund; close to $500 million for the clean and waste water fund; close to $24 million for the existing New Building Canada Fund; and close to $19 million for transfer programs to support municipalities in asset management planning and capacity building to help them face the challenges related to climate change.
In addition, Infrastructure Canada is requesting approximately $14.7 million for operating funding, which includes: $10.2 million for operating expenditures including personnel; $0.5 million for a data initiative with Statistics Canada; and $4 million to develop codes, guides, and specifications for climate resilient infrastructure with the National Research Council.
Finally, I would like to point out that, in keeping with the department's transparency mandate, we will present the results of our investments at the same time as this funding is disbursed.
Thank you for inviting us to appear before you today. We would be happy to answer any questions you have.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I want to welcome everybody back after a break week. I know both the Liberal and the Conservative members attended some conventions, but it's good to be back here in Ottawa doing this very important work.
Witnesses, I thank you for coming and giving us the opportunity to question you around the supplementary estimates.
My questions are going to be for the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority.
CATSA is requesting $142 million in additional funding, which represents approximately a 22.8% increase. According to the preamble included in the supplementary (A)s, $113 million of this funding will be used to comply with an International Civil Aviation Organization standard, which I know came into effect July 15, 2013. It required member countries to ensure that non-passengers and items they carry are subject to screening and security controls prior to entering security-restricted areas serving international civil aviation operations.
I have a number of questions. I'll ask two at a time, and then give you an opportunity to answer them.
Why was there a delay in receiving the 2016-17 incremental funding to deliver enhanced screening of airport staff in restricted areas?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I note that the supplementary estimates contain $22.7 million in operational funding for the Department of Transport's role in a $254 million horizontal initiative to assess, manage, and remediate federal contaminated sites throughout the country. Originally, municipalities and utility companies, etc., invested quite heavily in the economic strategic gateway sites, which you spoke of, whether they be airports or whether they be ports. With that, a lot of those investments had to do with water, waste water, roads, sidewalks, utilities, hydro, gas, information technology, etc. With that, it also contributed to local economies, their identity, as well as past and future initiatives as they relate to the economy, once again recognizing a lot of them were airports and ports, as you recognized.
Today, a lot of these lands throughout the country.... I have a good-sized chunk right in the middle of one of the cities in my riding, and I'm talking right smack dab in the middle, which makes it a complete eyesore to some extent, albeit in a strategic location.
They did contribute, as I have said, to local identity and economic initiatives. Sitting stagnant, a lot of them sit with existing contaminants of concern, many of which are worse than others. In my neck of the woods, there's a piece of land that Transport Canada currently owns which contains a heavy concentration of arsenic, lead, etc. Once again, it's in the heart of our city, right next to residential areas and parks and areas where a lot of kids play.
My question is for you, ma'am. Does the federal government, Transport Canada in particular, have an asset management plan attached to the contaminated sites? It is an asset to Transport Canada, so I would assume there would be an asset management plan attached to those sites which takes into consideration ongoing risk, return on investment to bring those sites back into productivity some day, especially if the municipalities are asking for that to happen so that they can add it to their economic portfolio.
Finally, I know some of the sites do have site-specific risk assessments attached to them. Those risk assessments do identify the contaminants of concern. With that said, is there a strategy to actually look at those sites to have them remediated, then once again attach themselves to the latter, which is both returns on investment and the ongoing risks that are attached to those sites?
Thank you very much for that question.
This amount of money, the $22.6 million, is to address our high-risk contaminated sites. When you're talking about risk assessment, yes, this one really is focused on human health and the environment.
As I mentioned, we have a large inventory of sites, a lot of them are former airport sites, or port sites, or existing airport sites. We have a three-year investment plan for all of our sites, including our contaminated sites. We bundle them into two envelopes. The federal contaminated sites, which are the high-risk to health and the environment, get funded from this envelope, and the other ones get funded from other funds within the department once we have those funds.
We do assessments at every single one of them. The assessments are to identify the contaminants. As part of that assessment, we develop what is called the remediation plan, which is how we are going to address decontaminating the site and undertake that work. Every year we're funding a variety of sites across the country. This funding is really going to help us make a good dent in our highest-risk sites in terms of making sure we are addressing those that are at the highest risk in terms of human health, such as if they're getting seepage into the water or the effects are right on humans or into the environment.
Because we have such a large number of sites, we cannot do them all in one year. We do have this investment plan that basically allows us to chip away at them. Once the sites are cleaned, we will normally transfer them to municipalities or local interests that are interested in the sites.
I'd like to pick up where Mr. left off on public transit. This question is for Infrastructure Canada.
One theme that you explored was the floor for public transit infrastructure funding. I come from a place that is defined by a series of small communities that depend heavily on community transit that isn't necessarily public transit in the way people commonly conceive of it.
Will these community transit organizations be eligible for funding in cases in which a single new bus, for example, could transform the service, or will it go to the typical municipal, big city, public transit items that we think about?
Thank you for the question.
I would say that primarily the intent of the public transit infrastructure fund, the short-term funding, is for maintenance of and upgrades to existing infrastructure. There was a recognition that there has been a considerable lack of good repair in many systems. It's really not for the expansion of systems. I think that's what is going to come through phase two.
I would also mention that these kinds of transit investments, for public transit are also eligible under the current stock of infrastructure programs—the new building Canada fund, the small communities fund, and indeed the gas tax fund—but the allocation for the public transit infrastructure fund is based on ridership data provided by CUTA.
There may be some cases in which there would be exceptions, and those are the discussions that we're having right now with our colleagues in the provinces and territories.
Right, but that's not different from what was done previously, because I was a mayor for a decade, and I know that's exactly how we worked and got a number of projects through.
The issue we all came up against was that the province had one idea of what their priorities were, and the cities and municipalities had another idea of what their priorities were, and then you would have significant conflict. That is going on right now, and I think that is probably your biggest problem.
The province is going to hand you a list. Are you going back to the municipalities and consulting with them to see if they agree with it? I probably know the answer to that, but that has been the problem for 18 years that I know of.
In phase one there is some money for planning projects for a significant piece of infrastructure. If those projects pass through the planning process and get funding for planning, then are they guaranteed in phase two funding for the project?
This is generally for Transport Canada, but it's an issue that I brought up with Minister as well when he came.
With the sudden outflow of infrastructure money to come, a lot of municipalities, a lot of entities, obviously will be looking to suppliers to provide those new buses or the pipe for the sewers, or whatever. Has there been some consideration about how best to stage the flow of new procurements in a way that doesn't overwhelm the supply chain, if you will, here in Canada? For instance, if we're going to order a bunch of new buses from New Flyer or Nova Bus, we don't want to have the phenomenon of the snake that's just eaten a cow, and you have this big lump of orders coming through. Has there been any thought about how to properly stage this so we get reliable, predictable employment for a number of years?
The clean water and waste-water fund is a fund that has been newly set up. Is that correct?
My question arises because under the building Canada fund and under the green infrastructure fund that were set up in 2009, those waste-water projects were captured. There was also a list of projects for which the funds were earmarked for projects of interest, but they hadn't been announced yet. I would expect that the Lions Gate waste-water one would have been one of those, because I know they've been in negotiation for at least four years on that piece.
I'm trying to keep track of all this, because we're moving it out of one fund and putting it in another fund. We're saying that here are the shortened criteria, yet this has already been in process for a number of years.
Can we get a list that lays out those projects that had been earmarked for funds but that weren't announced?
Thank you all very much for that information.
Is the committee ready to deal with the supplementary estimates now? All right.
CANADIAN AIR TRANSPORT SECURITY AUTHORITY
Vote 1a—Operating and capital expenditures..........$142,272,546
(Vote 1a agreed to on division)
Vote 1a—Payments to Marine Atlantic Inc...........$6,100,000
(Vote 1a agreed to on division)
The Chair: With the consent of the committee I can group the following votes. Is the committee in favour of grouping the following votes?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
OFFICE OF INFRASTRUCTURE OF CANADA
Vote 1a—Operating expenditures..........$14,690,666
(Votes 1a and 10a agreed to on division)
Vote 1a—Operating expenditures..........$71,576,716
Vote 5a—Capital expenditures..........$24,106,745
Vote 15a—Grants and contributions—Transportation infrastructure..........$19,031,976
Vote 20a—Grants and contributions—Other..........$8,627,704
(Votes 1a, 5a, 15a and 20a agreed to on division)
Vote 1a—Payments to VIA Rail Canada Inc...........$6,930,000
(Vote 1a agreed to on division)
The Chair: Shall I report vote 1a under Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, vote 1a under Marine Atlantic Inc., votes 1a and 10a under the Office of Infrastructure of Canada, and votes 1a, 5a, 15a, and 20a under Transport, and vote 1a under VIA Rail Canada Inc. to the House?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
An hon. member: On division.
The Chair: Thank you all very much.
We will suspend for a couple of minutes. We have lots of committee business still to do. Thank you all very much.
Yes. The date of August 1, 2017, is completely inadequate because it sunsets on that date. For us to undertake a study prior to that date and then table it, it would have to be tabled in February or something for there to be long-term measures in place.
This is quite a complex measure. It's part of the Emerson report, which I had recommended we review. Are we pulling this part out of the Emerson report and saying we will singularly study that and not anything else related to grain transport and so forth?
If you say it is needed expeditiously, then I would suggest you would be saying that we conduct a study this fall, so that there can be appropriate action taken and so there is a long-term resolution of the matter well in advance of it sunsetting again. Otherwise we're up against that deadline of doing the same thing again and taking away the sunsetting.
I don't understand why you would say prior to August 1. I would say that is a little too close to the line.
Would you be open to moving that vastly forward? Then we have to discuss what is going to happen with all the other studies that we had proposed to do. We have a pile of motions that people tabled long ago, which we haven't dealt with.
We need to talk about where this fits in with all the other reports we are going to do. I know the Liberal members wanted to have a long discussion about future infrastructure framework. We have the marine.... We have a whole bunch of things that have already been submitted. We haven't had a steering committee meeting since the first one.
I would feel a lot more comfortable looking at this—not that I am saying it is a bad thing to look at—in the context of all the other issues that people are champing at the bit for us to look at. Then the critical timing on this.... We also need to talk to the agriculture committee and find out if they are also planning to do a study on this.
You may want to simply do the first part first, and then maybe our steering group could meet with the agriculture steering group and figure out what the best way is to move forward so that both parties, the rail industry and the farm producers, are content with the way we are going to do the review.
Madam Chair, thank you for that explanation, because that was going to be my question. I understand that the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act was actually introduced by the Minister of Agriculture, so I was wondering why it was here. I am glad you have clarified that.
To Linda's point, because it says prior to August 1, 2017, to me that means it could happen in the fall. That means it could happen right before Christmas, or right after Christmas—
An hon. member: —or in June.
Mrs. Kelly Block: —as long as it is before August 1.
Is it implied, with the postponement for one year, which is written into the act, that this is why the date of August 1, 2017 has been chosen—because it keeps these measures in place for that additional year, until we have an opportunity to address them, either through the study of the Emerson report or another study?
I want to reiterate the comments by Mr. Hardie that the sunsetting is actually on August 1, 2016, not 2017, so I want to be clear about that.
The second point, Madam Chair, if I may, and this is more for the minutes and again I'll be repetitive, should read:
That, prior to August 1, 2017, the Committee undertake a study on viable options to resolve the aforementioned issue on a longer-term or permanent basis, and that the findings of that Committee study be tabled in the House of Commons for consideration and action by the government.
Therefore, it's very clear in terms of why we're doing this, both here at the committee level and finally at the House of Commons level.
Madam Chair, I do want to add that Ms. Duncan's point with respect to time urgency is well taken. Although we do put August 1, 2017 as the deadline for completion of that, there is any time throughout the year that we can actually tackle this issue, based on the priorities that are going to be set forth by the steering committee. This, once again, allows the steering committee to make that priority. I would suggest that when a steering committee does meet, if in fact Ms. Duncan finds this is a priority, that can be a recommendation that comes out of the steering committee back to committee in relation to prioritizing the time frames that we can look at.
I don't think that's a decision for today. I think this motion speaks for itself. There's a reason for this motion. Whether you agree with it or not, it's here. The steering committee can then make the call on prioritizing how fast we actually get those resolutions forward to committee.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I will explain the agenda. I would in fact like the members of the group to give me some information because I have had a few questions on this.
You have all received the schedule that was prepared by our committee's team. It is a very realistic schedule if there are no votes. If that is the case, things will go well.
As you will have seen, we are all going to have dinner in Sherbrooke to break up the trip, as it is after all a long trip. Afterward, we will go to a very charming little inn on the shore of Lake Mégantic. It is a perfect place to hold all of our discussions without having to move constantly. Our time is limited. I know that several people will have to travel by plane to get there. I want us to use all the time we have to meet witnesses well.
We will begin very early Friday morning with a breakfast with Lac-Mégantic elected officials, such as the mayor, councillors, the county warden, as well as the person who was mayor when the tragedy occurred. It will be an informal discussion to give these people an opportunity to tell us about the current situation, the hardships they went through, their fears and all of those matters. The purpose of these discussions will be to give us an overview of the situation three years after the rail tragedy. This will give us a lot of information for the study we are undertaking on rail safety.
I asked that these groups be made up of five people at the most because the room is small and our time is limited. If we had groups of 10 or 12 people, it would be impossible to keep to the schedule, which is quite tight. And so I asked the people in each group to make 5- to 10-minute presentations to give us a picture of the situation. Afterwards, we can chat with them.
The people we will be hearing from are elected representatives, as well as members of the Comité de vigilance pour la sécurité ferroviaire de Lac-Mégantic—the Lac-Mégantic rail safety vigilance committee—and the Coalition des citoyens et organismes engagés pour la sécurité ferroviaire, the coalition of citizens and organizations for rail safety. The schedule will change slightly, because we separated the two groups. I am going to send the new schedule to our clerk. The positions of the groups on the agenda are not quite the same. To avoid confrontations, the groups will follow one another. Things will work out anyway in terms of the schedule.
Afterwards, we will meet representatives of the Centre intégré universitaire de santé et de services sociaux, who carried out a study on the state of the population three years after the tragedy. How did the population experience this tragedy? How is the tragedy impacting them now? What is the situation three years later with regard to government assistance? When the media and cameras are there, of course all the governments and groups are there too, but what is happening now, three years later? Do people still need help? That is what these people will come and talk to us about.
The Bureau de reconstruction du centre-ville de Lac-Mégantic and the Centre du savoir et de l'innovation en sécurité ferroviaire will come to talk about the work that was done after the tragedy. How and where do they rebuild? Should the railway be rebuilt elsewhere than in the downtown core? This will give us an idea of the issues that arise after such a tragedy and what we need to do.
The Centre du savoir et de l'innovation en sécurité ferroviaire is a Lac-Mégantic group that wants to put in place a rail safety centre to train stakeholders in rail safety, particularly French-speaking stakeholders, since there is no such centre for francophones. Currently, these stakeholders have to go to an English-language training centre. According to what was explained to me at a meeting recently, they would like this training to be offered to a larger number of people.
That is the plan I am submitting to you.
Afterwards, we will go by bus to see the location of the current downtown core. On site, they will show us exactly where it was before and where the rail line runs currently, so that we understand the situation well when reconstruction or a by-pass track are discussed afterwards. This will allow us to have a good understanding of the reasons behind these projects.
After that, I propose that we all meet with local media to answer their questions. For sure they will know that we're going to Lac-Mégantic. They will surely want to ask us questions. I know that one of the coalitions has already scheduled a press conference at the time we'll be meeting with people. The media will want to meet with us.
Depending on how late it will be, are we going to eat there? We could also have box lunches prepared. Whatever works best. Mr. Chaplin, I don't know how far along you are on this. It has more to do with the logistics of the event.
I have another question I wanted to ask.
I was asked by a member of the media if they could attend all the meetings. The room is very small. I have no objection to the media being at the meeting, but I don't know whether, technically, there will be enough room for them.
I suggest that we meet with the media after the meeting, which will allow everyone to air their views and make comments. It would be easier and allow for more frank discussions with residents. There may be some who would prefer not to share their views and emotions in public. They may be more willing to do so among us. I'm not asking for a closed meeting, because we will be able to talk about it afterward. It's something the committee could discuss. It's up to us to decide.
This is the itinerary I've prepared. There are many things planned. This will require Madam Chair to be highly efficient in terms of time management. I promise, Madam Chair, to assist you with that in every way I can. In a half day, if we manage to hear from everybody, we will have an accurate snapshot of the situation in Lac-Mégantic three years after the tragedy. People will also want to tell us about problems that persist in railway safety. One coalition, in particular, is in the midst of preparing a fairly detailed brief. We are going to have enough information to consider for several days.
Yes. There may be things for which the committee has to be prepared.
I gather the government House leader announced today that Thursday is going to be an opposition day, which I think affects the vote situation. Otherwise, there may still be a possibility that we will not be unleashed until after the start of private members' business.
That would severely complicate matters. It would put us into Lac-Mégantic sometime after 10 p.m., in which case we may have to war-game the situation and see whether or not we're going to have to do box lunches on the way there and box lunches on the way back. I realize it's not everybody's favourite way of dining, but when the timing is tight, that is perhaps the way to go.
The second question is, if the committee is hosting the elected officials of Lac-Mégantic, if we're in fact extending hospitality to them, the committee has to agree to it in a motion. It's very tightly controlled by the by-laws of the Board of Internal Economy. That needs to be specifically agreed to.
Because of everybody's getaway time on Friday afternoon, I think the real solution there ought to be box lunches, because that means we're on the bus, and we have concurrent activity. We're eating and travelling at the same time.
The route would be as direct as we can get. I understand there are people who may have to depart from Dorval. The other option is to depart from Ottawa because that's—