The House resumed consideration of Bill , as reported (with amendments) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.
Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure to be here today to debate this extremely important bill. I want to start by thanking the minister for his work and for the vision that he has shared with Canadians regarding this bill. I also want to thank the Canadians who were consulted and who gave us a lot of information about Air Canada.
The three main topics I want to discuss today are passenger rights, joint ventures and, of course, foreign ownership.
Before I begin speaking on those three points, I want to say that Canadians love to travel. They travel for pleasure, but also for business. When they do travel, they often mention certain areas that they feel we must do better in. One, of course, is the cost. The cost is very high in Canada compared to that in many other countries. It is an area where we need to make some improvements.
Canadian travellers also speak about their rights and ensuring that they are recognized in the many things they face while travelling. If it is simply a matter of delays, knowing the reason behind the delays would be extremely important. If it is overbooking, that is a different story altogether. They are looking for improvement in those areas, and it is obvious that Bill will answer many of those concerns.
I am the member for Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, and in Nova Scotia we have a fabulous airport in Halifax. It is a very important full-service airport in Atlantic Canada. It is always important to remember the importance of these types of companies that generate over $2.7 billion to the economy, which is extremely important for Nova Scotia. It is also important to mention that there are over four million travellers taking flights to and from Halifax. That, in itself, is very impressive.
Let us talk about the air passenger bill. This legislation will address very important issues that Canadians face and that we need to deal with, including consistency between our airline carriers, which is extremely important; passengers' rights; industry or carriers' rights as well; and when there are issues, the compensation. We need to bring some standardization to compensation, because it is not obvious if Canadians are being compensated for some of the challenges they face.
As I indicated earlier, we need to consider denial of boarding, delays and cancellations, baggage that is lost or damaged, tarmac delays, seating with family members or delicate cargo, such as musical instruments, etc. Those are major issues that we need to look at as a government. This bill will help us reach that objective.
Let us look at the issue we had last summer when a flight from Belgium to Montreal was diverted to Ottawa. The passengers stayed on the plane. They were told by the carrier there would be a delay of about 30 minutes. The 30 minutes continued on and on, and at the end of the day had become six hours. Throughout those six hours, the passengers were not able disembark from the plane, and the air conditioning stopped or broke down. They were running out of food and water. These are all critical things that passengers should be able to access at all times. Not being able to do so showed disregard for the passengers and their rights. We need to do something about that.
Not so long ago, we also saw on television a United Airlines flight on which a doctor, again because of a mistake by the carrier, was removed because of overbooking. Who did the overbooking? Again, it was the carrier that was at fault, yet the passenger was the one who was denied his rights. We need to make improvements in that area.
As far as adding to the bill of rights is concerned, we could also look at the question of official languages for Air Canada.
We need to ensure that people who want to use French or English have equal opportunities to do so. This is essential.
That is the important piece with respect to the bill of rights that I wanted to talk about.
We have to keep in mind that the air transportation sector is a challenging one today. There have been many changes. Many people choose to travel by air. It takes a huge capital investment by companies, yet results in a small profit margin. Therefore, we need to find ways to maximize efficiencies. It is already happening to some extent, as there are all kinds of different agreements. However, we need to do more. One approach that would really work well is the joint venture, with two or more companies working together to give better service to Canadians here in Canada and abroad. If a company or various companies want to have a joint venture today in Canada and to amalgamate to offer a better service, they normally have verify this with the Commissioner of Competition. That was the main analysis required. However, we need to look at the wider benefits for Canadians. With Bill , these companies can now make an application to the minister, who would consult with the Commissioner of Competition, but who would also look at the other benefits that Canadians could take advantage of. To some extent, that would be the measurement we would use to make that happen. This process will be much better than what we now have and allow Canadian companies to benefit from global trends and to realize efficiencies. It will also allow Canadian travellers access to a wider range of destinations, provide for easier in-bound travel, increased tourism, and increased flight options. That is another big piece of Bill that will be very helpful.
With respect to foreign ownership, previously foreign investors were only allowed to own up to 25% of the voting rights. Now they will be able to own up to 49%, putting us in line with many other countries in the world. However, no single investor would be able to own more than 25%, which is crucial, as well as no more than 25% for other carriers as well, which is essential.
We are paying way too much. Many people are travelling across the border to take flights with JetBlue, allowing them to travel from Boston to Florida for $99. We need to do better, because last year five million people crossed the border to take flights in the United States. We need to do better in this area, and we are well on our way with this new bill.
In conclusion, Canadian travellers are a priority for our government, and this transparent new process will allow us to see many changes. We will see smaller airports, such as in Atlantic Canada, Fredericton, P.E.I., Cape Breton, etc., become more important because there will be more choices. With the new provisions for joint venture we will see more flights in smaller rural communities, lower fares, more choices, and improved services and connectivity. This bill is well in line with that. I wonder why it has been so long in coming, because this is extremely important to making us more competitive and ensuring that Canadians have better access to better transportation.
Mr. Speaker, today I rise to speak at the report stage of Bill . This bill covers a range of amendments on the transportation sectors.
During my campaign, I heard loud and clear from many of my constituents that people were tired of omnibus bills from the previous government. There was an increased desire for accountability and transparency, yet here we are again discussing an omnibus bill that is moving through this House, with amendments to 13 acts, without giving parliamentarians adequate time for debate.
Because of the broad range of topics in this bill, I will keep my comments to air transportation, CATSA, and will quickly touch on marine transportation.
As many do in this House, I fly often. Over the last several months, we have seen stories of people being dragged off planes, stalled on the tarmac, and having to call emergency services. Too often, settlements are swept under the rug, and the industry continues with business as usual. I think Canadians are fed up. They are tired of waiting on the tarmac endlessly and are tired of overbooking.
The NDP introduced a bill that clearly set out the steps needed to establish a passenger bill of rights. The supported our bill and could have followed our example by introducing concrete measures to protect airline passengers. For example, when a flight is cancelled, the airline would have to offer passengers a choice between a full refund and re-routing under comparable conditions. Air carriers that failed to comply with this rule would have to pay $1,000 in compensation to every passenger, in addition to the refund. If an aircraft was held on the ground for more than one hour, the airline would have to provide passengers with adequate food, drinking water, and other refreshments. For each additional hour during which the airline failed to comply with that rule, it would have to pay each passenger $100 in compensation.
We also asked the government to implement protection measures immediately instead of delaying them until 2018. However, the minister chose not to propose concrete measures. Instead, he included provisions in the bill. The government sold it to the media and to Canadians as a passenger bill of rights, but that is simply misleading. The minister is delaying what needs to be done by handing over the responsibility for regulations to the Canadian Transportation Agency. When the CTA enacts inadequate regulations, it will give the minister a way out. That is not the political leadership Canadians expect.
What is disappointing is that the Liberals rejected our amendments without studying them, folding under pressure from the airlines.
The facts are clear that flights subject to the European regulations have a cancellation rate of 0.4%, which is four times lower than flights subject to the current Canadian regulations.
We have seen this government continuously abdicate its responsibility for airports. While the federal government does not manage them directly, it is up to the government to ensure a strategic vision, especially in a country as large as Canada. This vision must include every single size of airport, from Pearson to the local airports in my riding.
The communities of Campbell River, Comox, Port Hardy, and Powell River have expressed serious concerns about this continued pursuit of the for-profit privatization of our airports. These airports are essential elements of the social and economic infrastructure in our region. Representing many medium-sized and rural communities, air transportation provides a vital link that connects families and communities and promotes economic growth.
As a representative of the third largest riding in British Columbia, I have landed and taken off from several airports in my region, going to or returning from Ottawa. This is how I get to community events across the riding when travelling to and from this place.
These communities need these services, and as the government continues this privatization creep, they are connecting with me about their concerns. Campbell River recently shared with me that these privatization plans delay much-needed effective action on other issues, such as the burden of federal rents and fees on airlines and air travellers. These stand in the way of more competitive and economical air transportation in Canada.
There is still worse news in this bill regarding remote and rural airports. I think members can understand why I will not be supporting this bill as it stands. Bill would amend the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority Act. Instead of supporting the growth of regional airports, the government would use Bill to pass the buck for security screening to regional airports or the municipalities that own them. This policy would hurt rural economies, as the cost of security screening is so high that almost no small airport would be competitive if it had to pay the bill. The government is clearly stepping back from funding and developing regional airports.
Currently, the commissioner of competition has the power to determine whether a joint venture arrangement between airlines is anti-competitive and can subsequently apply to the Competition Tribunal to prohibit the joint venture. However, Bill would strip this power from the commissioner of competition. If Bill is adopted, the would have the final word on proposed joint ventures between airlines. Once an arrangement was approved, the Competition Tribunal would no longer be able to prohibit it.
If Air Canada proposed an arrangement to merge its operations with those of an American company, even if the commissioner found that the agreement would lessen competition among airlines and increase ticket prices for passengers, the minister could approve the arrangement if the minister was satisfied that it was within the public interest. This is why the NDP proposed deleting clause 14 of Bill , as it would expose consumers to unfair increases in airline ticket prices.
A decision by the minister to ignore the commissioner's advice could be influenced by political considerations to favour an airline at the expense of consumers. In addition, the bill does not spell out what is meant by the “public interest” as a basis for a decision by the minister to approve a merger of two airline operations. The concept of public interest is so broad that the minister could consider factors that are not in the interest of Canadians but rather in the interest of the shareholders of major airlines.
Bill would impact two elements in the marine industry. First, the bill would allow foreign-registered vessels to compete unfairly with Canadian shipowners. We are requesting that Canadian-registered vessels continue to have preferential access to government contracts, carriage of goods by container, and repositioning of empty containers. In addition, the government did not consult with stakeholders who would be affected by this measure.
Second, the Canada infrastructure bank would be permitted to provide loans to port authorities. Instead of assuming responsibility for directly funding the development of port facilities, the federal government would transfer that responsibility to private investors. Investors would charge high rates of interest on their loans, and once again, the consumer would foot the bill. The cost of the required return on investment could affect consumers, since many goods transit through ports.
If private investors such as Morgan Stanley acquire port facilities, Canadians would lose control of their port infrastructure. In fact, the government has asked Morgan Stanley to study a port privatization scenario, even though a subsidiary of Morgan Stanley is earning millions by buying and reselling parts of Canadian ports.
The concerns I have raised today were also brought up by our transport critic in committee and in the House. The bill is simply not good for Canadians, and for that reason, I cannot support it.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak today about rail safety in the context of Bill , the transportation modernization act, which proposes to amend the Railway Safety Act. This is an important step in strengthening Canada’s comprehensive approach to rail safety.
I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the dedication that the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities has demonstrated in its thorough analysis of the components of Bill C-49. Improving transportation safety and, in particular, enhancing the safety of the rail transportation system, is a priority for this government.
To this end, the government is proposing to amend the Railway Safety Act to mandate voice and video recorders in the locomotive cabs of federally regulated freight and passenger railways in Canada.
The approach proposed in Bill C-49 builds on the 2016 report from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada which confirmed that data from combined voice-and-video recording systems would help investigators understand the sequence of events leading to an accident and in identifying operational human factor issues, including those that may have been a factor in the accident.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada also stated in its safety study that, when used proactively as part of a safety management system, the information from voice and video recorders can provide significant benefits to help identify and mitigate risks before accidents occur.
The proposed changes to the Railway Safety Act reflect careful consideration of the best way to maximize safety benefits while safeguarding the privacy rights of railway employees.
In essence, the amendments would require companies to install and maintain voice and video recorders in locomotives but would also establish specific limits on how the recordings can be used.
The result of the proposed legislative requirements would be, first, objective data that would allow Transport Canada, companies, and safety investigators to better understand events leading up to, and during, an accident or incident.
Secondly, the information could also be used in a proactive way, but within very clear limits, to identify safety risks before accidents occur. For example, data would allow Transport Canada to perform trend analysis to inform future safety rules and regulations. Companies could use the data to develop new or improved training programs, to strengthen existing operating procedures, or to establish new ones to address identified safety gaps.
This government understands that the proposed amendments have privacy implications, in particular for operating crews. These implications have been recognized throughout the study of this bill.
I can assure the House that safeguarding the privacy rights of railway employees has been a key consideration in the development of the proposed amendments. This is why Bill imposes strict and clear limits on the use of the information from video and voice recorders, as well as strict and clear provisions on how information must be handled, all to safeguard the privacy rights of employees.
For instance, any recording used for safety management must be selected through random sampling. Regulations that would follow royal assent will outline objective parameters for random sampling. They will also outline requirements for data protection that companies would be required to comply with, such as standards for encryption, data storage, and retention periods. Companies would also be required to develop and implement policies and procedures to respond to record-keeping requirements and managing access to the information, in particular how they will safeguard against unauthorized access.
During the committee’s study of the bill, one other issue we heard about is the issue of discipline. We heard from parliamentarians and some stakeholders concerns that data from locomotive voice and video recorders might be used for disciplinary purposes. I can assure this House that the fundamental purpose behind the proposed regime is safety. It is not about, nor does it allow for, the monitoring of day-to-day performance of employees. In this context, it is not meant to facilitate disciplinary measures.
However, it is possible that, in certain egregious circumstances shown by the recordings, disciplinary measures might be the most appropriate means to address a serious safety concern. The regulations will define what is meant by egregious circumstances so that this is not left to the discretion of railway companies.
Consultations with stakeholders, including individuals, companies, unions and other interested parties will be an integral part of building the regulations to ensure we get this right. The proposed regime clearly provides that no company shall use or communicate the information that is recorded, collected and preserved unless the use and communication is done in accordance with the law.
As is the current practice, Transport Canada would conduct inspections and audits to monitor compliance with legislative and regulatory requirements. In the event of non-compliance, Transport Canada would have the authority to take appropriate enforcement action, including imposing administrative monetary penalties.
I would like to reiterate that mandating on-board recording devices has one purpose and one purpose only: to strengthen the safety of Canada's rail industry for all Canadians, including railway employees. The recordings will help explain what happened after an accident, but, more importantly, they will have the real potential to allow us to identify and address safety concerns in order to prevent accidents from happening.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak today on Bill the transportation modernization bill.
First I would point out that this is another omnibus bill. There are things in here about rail and air traffic safety, and all kinds of different things. This was the government that said it was not going to do omnibus bills. I want to point out that this is another broken promise.
I will spend some of my time talking about rail, and then I will move on to air traffic. As members may know, I am the co-chair for the parliamentary rail caucus. In that role, I interface with associations that work in the railway industry, and I had had an opportunity last week to meet. Of course, rail safety is always a topic of conversation.
The conversation went like this. In terms of rail safety, I asked about their biggest concerns right now. Their biggest concern was not any of the things in this bill. They asked how the government could be talking about transportation modernization when it is legalizing marijuana. It recognizes that it is dangerous for people to drive a vehicle when they are impaired by drugs, so the government has allowed a bill that brings forward mandatory and random testing for car driving. However, people are driving trains, and that is an even bigger hazard, but workplace employers are not allowed to do that kind of mandatory and random testing. That was the concern that they brought forward as being a big deal in rail safety. I would encourage the government to address that concern.
I will speak to some of the things in this bill that are concerning. First, we have heard some conversation today about locomotive voice and video recorders. I know that the Teamsters and Unifor are quite concerned. I am concerned myself. I heard the last member who delivered a speech say that these things would not be used for disciplinary action, and then went on to say that if it were an egregious enough thing, then perhaps that would be the right thing to do. Obviously there is potential for it to be used in that way. I know that the Privacy Commissioner has raised a number of concerns. None of those things appears to be addressed in the bill.
We keep hearing that it will be in the regulations. We have not seen the regulations. It seems that there are a lot of vague, unclear, undefined parts to this bill, which we are supposed to trust that the regulation will address. I am not sure that will happen.
In my own riding of Sarnia—Lambton, we have a number of rail safety concerns that I do not see addressed in this bill. The had decided that people needed to upgrade the rail crossings, for example. That takes a lot of money. I have one rural part of my riding that has eight rail crossings and 2,300 people. To fix those eight rail crossings to the new standard would be upwards of $5 million, and the 2,300 people are not going to be able to come up with that money.
With the Liberals being so far behind on their infrastructure spending, if they really wanted to modernize and cared about rail safety, I would have imagined they would be spending a lot of money updating the rail crossings across the country. We know that is a place where huge money needs to be spent. Another opportunity that was missed would be to do the high performance rail we have been talking about between Quebec and Windsor. There is zero money in the budget for that. While there is a lot of ideology in this bill, there is no follow-up action in terms of the infrastructure spending.
I would like to talk about one other thing. I have CF Industries in my riding. This is a company that makes fertilizer. I am aware that Fertilizer Canada appeared at committee to testify about this bill and to express their concerns. There is a long-standing principle in the rail business called the “common carrier principle”. It is a principle that shipping companies cannot discriminate or refuse service on the basis of the type of good. One of the things that is used to make fertilizer is ammonia. In the history of the rail industry, they have not had any incidents with ammonia. However, because this bill is bringing exclusions that would impact the fertilizer industry, that will drive them to change to a different mode of transportation, such as trucks, which would mean four times as many vehicles travelling, with a higher incident rate of collision. That actually increases the risk to the public rather than reducing the risk to the public. Again, although the bill is supposed to be about bringing more rail safety, in fact it is doing the opposite.
Fertilizer Canada has asked specially for proposed subsection 129(3) and section 136.9 to be altered so that it is not discriminating against the fertilizer industry, which is 12% of the supply that we use here in Canada and also 80% exported to other countries. It is a big contributor to the trade surplus, $4.5 billion. We ship our fertilizer to 70 countries around the world, and this update to the rail rules will negatively impact that business and increase costs to farmers in Canada. That would be a concern for me as well.
In terms of some of the air traffic changes in the bill, the air passenger rights regime, I have spent about 30 or 35 years travelling around the world, so I have certainly experienced all the outrageous things that can happen to passengers, including delays, cancellations, lost or damaged baggage. I had a flight recently on an airline that was not Canadian, I am happy to say, but my bag arrived with the corner torn right off and I had to replace the luggage myself. There was no compensation for me on that one.
I am not sure that this, although well intentioned, will be able to be easily implemented. For every claim for compensation, it has to be determined whether it was the airline's fault, the government agency's fault, the fault of the weather. That is a huge administrative burden, and that usually means increased costs. Those increased costs typically get passed on to the people who are buying the airline ticket. I have a concern that some of the provisions, although well intentioned, will result in higher airplane ticket fares. We already have some of the highest fares in the world. If I think about flying to Ottawa from Sarnia, it is nearly $1,000. I can fly to Florida out of Detroit for about $200 or $300 Canadian. We are already paying huge fees, and I do not see that the bill is going to address that in any way. I am concerned that the prices will go up.
I have a concern about the foreign ownership increase to 49%. I am concerned with all the changes that the government has introduced, the infrastructure bank, for example, where Liberals want to sell the eight major airports to foreign investors. There is something to be said for national security, for owning and controlling our own assets like airports that are so critical to the country, so I am not a fan of that at all.
The consumer groups and passengers who have been looking for a passenger bill of rights are not happy. The feedback is that they do not think the bill addresses their concerns. It fell short on that as well. In addition, I am a little concerned about the joint ventures phraseology in the bill. Basically, it is taking the authority away from the competition bureaus and giving that authority to approve joint ventures to the . We have seen the government time and again go without parliamentary oversight, so, for that reason, I am not a fan of that section.
The bill falls short in many different ways. The Liberals need to take their time and go back to the drawing board on this one.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to follow my esteemed colleague. I think many of us in the House look forward to putting great projects forward for infrastructure funding consideration as we move forward.
It is a privilege for me to address the House today on Bill , the transportation modernization act. I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak about the key measures the bill that propose to ensure Canada's freight rail system remains among the most efficient in the world.
As the chair of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, I want to thank all committee members for their diligent work in reviewing this important legislation. The co-operation we had at committee from all parties at the table in reviewing Bill and ensuring it was the best it could be was a real tribute to the members who were there. Everyone's co-operation was very much appreciated.
As a result of that spirit of collaboration, the amendments to the bill will strengthen Canada's freight rail policy framework and maintain the delicate balance that Bill is meant to achieve.
Our freight rail system is a critical component of the Canadian economy. It directly creates and sustains thousands of Canadian jobs, while connecting Canadian businesses to international and domestic markets. Over $280 billion worth of goods move through our rail system every year, underscoring its major contribution to our economic well-being, something that is very much taken for granted by others.
Canadians are dependent on a reliable rail system to move their products to market across this vast land. A guiding principle for our legislation has been to sustain the commercial orientation that has allowed our system to rank among the most efficient and Canadian rates to be among the lowest in the world. Canada's economic growth and future prosperity is dependent on preserving our national advantage.
For this reason, in May 2017, the government introduced Bill to support a transparent, fair, and efficient freight rail system that would meet the long-term needs of Canadian shippers and facilitate trade and economic growth for the benefit of all Canadians. The bill aims to deliver outcomes aligned with the government's long-term transportation vision, including fair access for shippers, a more efficient, competitive rail system, greater transparency, and sustainable investments.
The bill would introduce a number of fair access measures to help balance the playing field between shippers and railways. While we support the commercial orientation of our rail system, we recognize that the remedies are required when commercial agreements cannot be reached. These are not easy things to accomplish.
In our consultations, we heard that remedies could be too complex, lengthy, or costly for all shippers to pursue. For this reason, the bill would improve access to and shorten the timelines of the Canadian Transportation Agency processes to settle service and rate disputes. This would result in more balanced outcomes for stakeholders and more timely and accessible remedies, something we heard from many people who came before the committee. Governments continue to have a very extensive process of forms to be filled out and applications to be submitted here and there, which makes it very difficult for a lot people when they try to achieve their goals.
This legislation would also provide clarity to shippers and railways by defining what “adequate and suitable” rail service meant. In our consultations with freight rail stakeholders, we often heard about uncertainty regarding a railway's service obligations. Bill would clarify that a railway would have to provide shippers with the highest level of service that could reasonably be provided in the circumstances, taking into consideration various factors, including the railway's obligations under the Canada Transportation Act. This would be a major help to all shippers.
The bill would strengthen competition to help create a more balanced and also efficient freight rail sector by introducing a new competitive access measure called “long-haul interswitching”. Long-haul interswitching will give captive shippers across regions and sectors of Canada access to a competing railway at a rate set based on comparable traffic. The committee has proposed adjustments to long-haul interswitching that will provide captive shippers across sectors in British Columbia, Alberta, and Northern Quebec with access to a remedy. These changes would maintain the long-haul interswitching's important balance between giving shippers competitive options and preserving network investment and efficiency for the benefit of all shippers.
During consultations leading up to Bill , we also heard that shippers did not have enough information from railways on the location of functional interchanges. To address this concern, Bill C-49 would require railways to list their interchanges. Railways would also be required to provide advance notice of their plans to remove an interchange from this list, something that could have a tremendous impact on shippers and on local communities.
The committee has proposed to extend the notice period from 60 days to 120 days to allow shippers sufficient time to file and obtain a level of service ruling against the removal of an interchange, if necessary. As well, the committee has proposed an amendment that would require railways to notify the agency of an interchange removal to ensure shipper concerns would be adequately considered and reviewed.
Furthermore, Bill would greatly improve transparency throughout Canada's freight rail system. The availability of accurate and timely information is necessary to ensure the effective operation of a commercially oriented rail system. The bill would require railways to provide service and performance information on a weekly basis in line with what they provide in the United States about their American operations. This information would be made publicly available to all freight rail stakeholders on the Canadian Transportation Agency's website.
As well, railways would be required to provide rate data to Transport Canada, which could be shared in aggregate form with shippers. This rate data would also be used by the Canadian Transportation Agency to help calculate long-haul interswitching rates.
The committee has also proposed amendments that would ensure this data is provided in a more timely way to all rail stakeholders. The changes would require railways to begin reporting on service and performance metrics in 180 days rather than a year, and would require railways to submit metrics five days after each reporting period rather than two weeks. Furthermore, the committee has proposed that the Canadian Transportation Agency publish the data on its website within two days of receiving it.
Finally, Bill would help encourage investment in the freight rail system, which is critical to encouraging its long-term growth. For example, the bill would modernize the maximum revenue entitlement regime by making adjustments to incentivize hopper car investments and reforming its methodology to better reflect individual railway contributions.
As well, the bill would relax Canadian National Railway's majority shareholder ownership limit to facilitate investment in a network that is critical to Canada's economic performance. The committee has introduced a minor technical amendment that would make this change effective upon royal assent, allowing CN to more easily attract capital from its majority shareholders.
The measures in Bill would position Canada's freight rail system to compete globally for years to come. The proposed amendments that the committee has made will advance our government's goal of strengthening fair access, efficiency, transparency, and, very important, investment in Canada's freight rail system.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise and offer some comment on Bill , an act to amend the Canada Transportation Act.
I had the pleasure of sitting through an inordinate amount of witness testimony as we went through this important bill, which really is the first step in implementing the minister's transportation 2030 strategy to make transportation more efficient in Canada.
I will start by offering a few comments on the importance of transportation to our country.
In the 21st century, we know that Canada is a trading nation. We know that in order to maximize our economic output, we depend heavily on global markets. When we are trying to maximize the economy in Canada, it does not take long to realize, with our skilled workforce and natural resources, that we have the capacity to produce more than we have the ability to consume domestically. As such, getting our goods to the world market is of extraordinary importance if we are going to succeed and thrive in a 21st century global economy. This is where Bill comes in. We recognize that to get our products to market in a timely way, we depend on the efficiency of the transportation system. We know that customers around the world are waiting anxiously for their products, and if they cannot find a reliable supplier, then they are going to go elsewhere.
The Canadian transportation system has a number of different important links along the way, and Bill addresses a few of them. Specifically, it deals with certain measures in the rail sector, air sector, and the marine sector, which has been the subject of little debate thus far, but it really does enhance efficiency of getting products to market or improve the experience of Canadian or international travel for Canadian travellers.
I will start first with the rail transportation in Bill .
The importance of the rail sector in Canada cannot be overstated. Of course, before Confederation, north-south trade was of extraordinary importance, but as I mentioned at the outset of my remarks, getting products to global markets is becoming increasingly important. Of course, the rail corridor from east to west is of extraordinary importance as well.
The key part of the measures dealing with rail transport really has to do with the concept of long-haul interswitching. When I looked at the rules we had embedded in law before Bill , they were not sufficient to deal with getting products from different industries and different regions to market in Canada. What we did have, and we heard this in a number of questions from members opposite, was Bill , which dealt with the transportation of western Canadian grain to market.
Bill came in 2013, when there was a unique set of circumstances. We dealt with one of the worst winters in modern memory, and at the same time dealt with an unimaginable grain overproduction at the time, which really put our producers and shippers in a bind. If something were not done to get the product to market in a timely way, the economic output would have been significantly lessened. To the credit of the government at the time, it took some action to deal with that and implemented a system that simulated competition where there was none.
In Canada, it does not take long to realize that when we are dealing with rail transport, we are dealing with many captive shippers. There is essentially a duopoly in Canada with two major class I railways. However, for many shippers, there is only one option. If one is living in the northern prairie provinces, one does not always have access to competition, which can drive rates up. Therefore, measures in the previous legislation stated that within 160 kilometres of an interchange point, one would be allowed to essentially treat the monopoly holder as though it were competing, and one could create a bargaining circumstance around the table when there was none. It was not used all that frequently, but we did hear testimony from witnesses that it had made a difference at the time.
However, there is a key problem with that short-term fix, which was needed at the time. It did not consider that the Canadian economy depends on more than western Canadian grain. Bill did some good things for that industry in that region, but it did nothing for forestry or mining, and it did nothing for provinces such as Ontario and Quebec. Of course, the province I am from, Nova Scotia, does not necessarily have the same problem, with not having the class I railways present.
My point is that long-haul interswitching has come in to solve this problem because it provides opportunities for captive shippers who might not be within 160 kilometres of an interchange who might be in the industry of producing natural resources outside of grain in western Canada. This would provide an opportunity to simulate a competition around the table for so many different producers and this is a very important thing.
In addition to this significant change in the way that products can be transported on Canadian railways, we see a number of measures that were implemented in Bill to recognize that shippers sometimes have a tough time getting their products to market. We see reciprocal penalties. Previously, there was no remedy necessarily for a shipper whose service obligations were not being met by the railway. In this instance, we can imagine the brand recognition that it does and the cost of having goods waiting to get to market and having no way to transport them. Now the penalty is cut both ways and it encourages everyone to meet his or her obligations to ensure that goods get to market.
We also see a definition of adequate and suitable service. We are seeing enhanced data disclosure. We are seeing that the maximum revenue entitlement has been retained. We are seeing efficiencies embedded into the arbitration process, which creates the equivalent of a small claims process for disputes of less than $2 million. We are seeing agency authority to regulate service-level agreements going forward.
Quite a big focus of our testimony over the course of our committee study on this issue went to the rail sector. However, I do not want to ignore the other important sectors that really do make a difference in the communities that I represent as well.
When we look at marine transport, some of the nonsensical features that we had embedded into Canadian law previously included that international shippers did not have the ability to move empty containers within the Canadian ports system. This might put people who are shipping from Europe to a port in Montreal, for example, in a place where they are not able to take that container from Montreal and move it to the port of Halifax to help local exporters in the province I represent get their products to Europe. When we put it to them to say, “Is this a big Canadian industry right now? Are we going to be interfering with local jobs?”, we heard that in fact this is not being done right now. However, to protect the economic interests of Canadian workers, Bill would only allow this kind of practice to go forward on a non-revenue basis. Essentially, if I am a European shipper, for example, and I want to move my own empty containers between Canadian ports to make the transportation system for Canadian exporters more efficient, I would be able to do that under Bill C-49.
Of course, one of the key parts of Bill was the air passenger bill of rights. There are a number of substantive rights that were built into the framework, although a lot more of the details and specifics are going to be embedded in regulation that follows. One of the reasons that this has gotten a bit of uptake in the media is that so many of us, when we see those viral videos of passengers being hauled off planes, become frustrated because we have experienced the ordinary frustrations of air travel ourselves. I have personally experienced having my luggage be damaged and come off one size-16 shoe at a time on the carousel. We know what it is like to see that someone is going to be charged more to sit next to his or her infant. When people are travelling with a musical instrument, if it is not handled properly there can be severe damage and that damages some musicians' livelihoods. A number of these problems are being addressed in Bill C-49 and we are going to require that airlines make it known to the public how they can seek recourse when an airline falls below the standard expected for travellers who paid for quality service on their flight.
In addition, there is a key part of air travel that I wanted to hit on as well. We have changed the foreign ownership limits from 25% to 49%. This is going to encourage more investment by international companies in the Canadian air sector and potentially drive the cost of air travel down. We have already seen two discount airlines, when they qualified for this kind of an exemption under the previous rules, announce that they were going to be making investments in Canada to service secondary markets and offer cheaper service.
To wrap up in the little time that I have left, Bill is the foundation of the minister's strategy to enhance the efficiency of the Canadian transportation sector. It would see products move in different industries in different regions of our country to get to global markets more effectively. It would protect the rights of passengers who are travelling in the air sector. It would, important from my perspective, make shipping a more efficient part of the international transportation system. It would help exporters in places like Nova Scotia get their goods to market in a cost-effective and efficient way. This is a good bill and I hope the entire House supports it.
Mr. Speaker, the hon. member touched on a few different items and, first, I will deal with the marine portion of his question.
Importantly, he touched on one piece I did not mention in my remarks. It is with respect to changes in eligibility for different kinds of financing that have been made available to Canadian ports, and specifically the Canada infrastructure bank. Right now there are hundreds of millions, I think we are deep into the trillions, of foreign capital that is currently invested in negative yield bonds.
The Canada infrastructure bank is going to open the market that will see global capital come into interest-bearing investments. They are usually for profit-generating infrastructure, such as Canadian ports. By expanding the financing eligibility to Canadian ports for the Canada infrastructure bank, we can see significant port expansion. When we are engaging in deals like CETA, or dealing with new international trade agreements around the world, we will see investments that will grow our ports and expand our ability to get our goods to market.
Also, the hon. member mentioned the foreign ownership restriction that has been moved from 25% to 49%. We are already seeing discount airlines come into Canada. This is bringing the price down and increasing service to secondary markets that are not very well served or not served by discount airlines today.
The final question that he referenced was the need to prevent one person from monopolizing that 49%, which would give them close to an individual majority control. This is an important limit on power.
We see similar kinds of limits in the rail sector with CN, for example, to prevent one foreign interest from snapping up a large enough portion that they could control the decisions of a company. This is important when dealing with competitors south of the border that might try to drive traffic from Canadian airports south of the border, as it could defeat the purpose of an efficient transportation system in Canada.
With these limits in place, I am very comfortable we will improve service for Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to discuss Bill . Bill is an omnibus bill that creates an air passengers' bill of rights, and introduces a new regime for railways and rail shippers.
This bill would establish a new air passengers' bill of rights and liberalize the international ownership restrictions on Canadian air carriers. As well, it would allow the to consider and approve applications for joint ventures between two or more air carriers providing air services.
Further, it would amend regulations governing Canada's freight rail system, and mandate the installation of locomotive voice and video recorders in locomotive cabs.
Bill would expand the Governor in Council's power to require major railway companies to provide information relating to rates, service, and performance, and amend Canada's Marine Act so that port authorities are eligible for loans through the infrastructure bank.
In total, this bill substantially amends 13 different acts and would have enormous consequences for all three modes of transport.
My first concern with Bill is that this legislation drastically weakens legislative protections for western Canadian shippers and farmers.
Instead of making travel more expensive and unattainable for many Canadians, we need to focus on proactive measures to make travel less expensive and more convenient for all travellers. Maybe we should start by repealing the carbon tax, instead of legislating reactive compensation that only a small portion of passengers will benefit from.
Further, this bill provides few specifics on the proposed air passengers' bill of rights, and is not supported in its current form by many airline passenger advocates, including Gabor Lukacs and Jeremy Cooperstock from the Consumers' Association of Canada. They oppose this bill, as they consider its measures of little value to support passengers. If advocates for an air passengers’ bill of rights do not support this, it speaks volumes to this legislation.
Port authorities and their wholly-owned subsidiaries will be able to receive loans and loan guarantees from the Canada infrastructure bank. My Conservative colleagues and I strongly oppose the creation of an infrastructure bank.
A further concern that is raised by this bill is that of staffing. The Canadian Transportation Agency and Transport Canada will require significant new staffing to handle all the additional data collection and regulatory powers this legislation introduces.
This bill would lead to drastic changes in every means of transportation. With respect to air transportation, in particular, I have a few concerns. This bill does not specify the compensation levels for passengers under the proposed bill of rights. Voting for this bill would give the and the Canadian Transportation Agency a blank cheque to set monetary compensation for passengers in the future with no oversight. That is wrong.
The bill also raises a concern that the will have significant new powers to approve or overrule proposed joint ventures between airlines. This will lessen the role of the independent and non-partisan Competition Bureau.
Further, the bill would allow airport authorities to charge airlines and passengers for extra security lanes. This has the potential to lead to new airport security changes on top of the air traveller security changes presently levied by the Government of Canada.
There are also going to be major changes to rail transportation and safety, which the government cannot ignore. Unfortunately, the rail portion of Bill is a major reversal of the policies introduced by former ministers of agriculture and transportation in our Conservative government in 2014.
The first issue I would like to draw attention to is interswitching, an operation performed by railway companies whereby one carrier picks up cars from a customer or shipper and hands them off to another carrier that performs the line haul or transports them the majority of the linear distance of the overall railway movement.
The new long-haul interswitching remedy created by Bill is a renamed copy of competitive line rates, which are hardly ever used. The new long-haul interswitching rate will be more difficult to use for shippers and will not serve as a useful tool in negotiations with the railroad. This will be a problem. The entire long-haul interswitching program can be waived by the if the minister believes that the railroad is in financial distress. I cannot support this.
Further, the 30 kilometre interswitching rate will be set each year. It will take into consideration the railroads' infrastructure needs across the entire network. I want to highlight that this will likely increase the regulated rate paid by shippers for interswitching and discourage the practice.
For toxic inhalation hazard material, shippers will not be able to apply for the long-haul interswitching remedy. This will negatively impact hundreds of shippers.
While long-haul interswitching will extend to 1,200 kilometres or 50% of the total haul distance, the first interswitching location for many captive shippers in northern Alberta and northern B.C. would be located within the Kamloops—Vancouver corridor where interswitching is not allowed beyond 30 kilometres, therefore removing their ability to utilize this remedy to increase railway competition. We should not be stifling competition in this country. It is this sort of legislation that is making it more expensive and less attractive to do business in Canada.
It is clear that Bill would create surrounding air and rail transport, but it does not stop there. Marine transport will also be impacted if the bill is passed. My concerns here are twofold. First, the Canada Marine Act will be amended to permit port authorities and their wholly-owned subsidiaries to receive loans and loan guarantees from the Canada infrastructure bank. Second, the Coasting Trade Act will be amended to allow ships that are not registered in Canada to move empty containers between Halifax and Montreal. This is simply illogical.
It is for these reasons that I will not be able to support the legislation.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak to a couple of aspects of Bill . I have had the opportunity to express a number of thoughts, a few of which I will go over, but I want to look at a very important issue. Even though the legislation deals with transportation in general, I want to focus my opening remarks on something that I think is really important.
It was not that long ago when we talked about the important role that standing committees play in Parliament. The Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities did a great job of listening to the different stakeholders that made representations with respect to this legislation. Ultimately, through those hearings, I understand the committee reported to the House early in order for the bill to pass clause by clause. The encouraging thing to recognize is that this is yet another piece of legislation that went through the process with a number of amendments. We often hear about government amendments on a bill that passes, but in my years in opposition in the House, it was very rare. I could not recall one occasion where opposition amendments were accepted and ultimately passed. I was quite pleased that out of nine amendments, there may have been six from the opposition, though I do not want to be quoted on that. That demonstrates a great deal of goodwill on the part of the government, and in particular the minister.
The minister has done an incredible job in bringing forward legislation that deals with tangible issues, and I want to focus on two of them specifically. One deals with the situation that many farmers have found themselves in over the years. When I was in opposition, I recall hearing from farmers first-hand about the piles and piles of wheat being stored outside because their containers were full. They could not get the rail service they required in order to get that commodity to port. I understand that there were empty ships outside of ports that wanted to transport that commodity, but unfortunately the disconnect was through the railways.
The member for at the time, along with myself and many others, was exceptionally frustrated. We felt that the farmers were not being listened to by the government of the day. We did not know why there was not more action, and why the producers, the ones putting so much of their sweat equity, finances, and resources into producing the world's best commodities, were not able to get their commodities to port in a more timely fashion. When I was briefed on this legislation, it was one of the issues that stood out. It is important to have mechanisms that enable service agreements to be arbitrated in a fairer fashion, so that there is a better quality of service for the producers.
As an MP from the Prairies, I am quite pleased that we as a government are able to do something that the former government, which claimed to have a significant representation in the Prairies, was unable to do. It speaks volumes about the sense of commitment that the in particular has, and that the government as a whole has in building rural communities. This is one of the ways that I think it is fairly well received. This legislation covers a number of areas, but that one really came to mind for me.
The other area is airlines and the idea of having an airline passenger bill of rights in place. This legislation contains a mechanism that would enable that bill of rights to happen. I see that as a strong and encouraging aspect of the legislation.
Most MPs do a considerable amount of flying, some more than others, depending on their proximity to Ottawa. I do not know how many stories I have heard over the years in regard to issues that have arisen between airlines and passengers. Passengers are quite upset because of the lack of recourse. Airlines have some restrictions in place that often lead to complications. Things are beyond one's control when it comes to nature. However, in many cases, airlines need to be held more accountable. That is why it is encouraging to see within this legislation things that will protect the interests of consumers and ultimately producers.
My colleague raised the issue of the Canada infrastructure bank and the opportunities there for our ports and others. He also talked about how this legislation would enable future investments. These things are critically important.
If we take the time to do this right and we invest in things such as infrastructure, or offer opportunities for investment in infrastructure through things such as the Canada infrastructure bank, then we will be creating all sorts of opportunities. We can talk about those opportunities in terms of the jobs directly affiliated with the construction of a particular project; they are tangible and easily seen. However, the jobs that can be created as an indirect result are equal to or quite often greater than that, especially if we are talking about issues surrounding our ports.
There is a huge demand for modernizing and improving our ports, and it would be at a substantial cost. We are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars. Bringing in legislation that could potentially enhance that development opportunity, the flow of goods both into and out of our country, is a positive thing. That would assist us in creating good, solid middle-class jobs that are necessary to drive our economy.
I am pleased with the policies that this government has put in place over the last couple of years, and their impact on Canada, on our middle class and those aspiring to be a part of it, and on those who are finding it more challenging. At the end of the day, literally hundreds of thousands of jobs are being created. We are seeing many benefits in terms of full-time jobs that are being created.
Bill would do many things, and I could list some of them, but I will not have time because I know the Speaker wants me to sit down. The point is that the bill caters to our airlines, our ports, and our railways, and members opposite would be best advised to get behind this solid legislation.
Mr. Speaker, once again this Parliament has been presented with a poorly and hastily crafted omnibus bill that would undermine workers' fundamental rights to privacy and protect the rights of investors.
It is hard to see any difference in policy between the current government and the one that went before. The disparity between Liberal election promises and Liberal actions in government is painful. Where is the promise to end the use of undemocratic omnibus legislation, so decried by the Liberals in opposition? Like the Conservatives before them, the Liberals are subjecting Canadians and members of this House to unworkable and flawed, now Liberal, omnibus bills.
Bill , for all its omnibus bulk, contains only two measures New Democrats can support. We believe in the measures that would improve the rights of air travellers and the protections for grain shippers. These ideas are positive improvements to the status quo. For that reason, we are calling on the government to sever these two initiatives from the pointless and ineffective remainder of Bill C-49 so they can be studied at committee and passed into law.
As for the rest of Bill C-49, we will vote against it, and I will tell members why. Bill would amend the Canada Transportation Act, giving the minister of transport the power to approve joint-venture arrangements between airlines. This is worrisome, because that type of arrangement could proceed with the minister's approval even if the commissioner of competition found that it was anti-competitive, and it could increase the price of airline tickets. Let me repeat: it would give the minister of transport the final word on proposed joint ventures between airlines, and once an arrangement was approved, the Competition Tribunal could no longer prohibit it.
The NDP proposed deleting clause 14 of Bill C-49, because it would expose consumers to unfair increases in airline ticket prices, yet that clause remains. The bill would also increase the limit on foreign ownership of Canadian airlines from 25% to 49%, despite a University of Manitoba study, published on Transport Canada's own website, that demonstrated that this measure would have no positive impact on competition.
Most concerning, Bill would amend the Railway Safety Act to allow railway companies to use video and voice recorders, and despite the fact that the bill would risk violating section 8 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by authorizing the government or employers to collect private information without instituting adequate protections, the Liberals rejected NDP amendments to limit the use of these recorders.
Locomotive voice and video recordings should be accessible only to the Transportation Safety Board. There is nothing to stop individual railway companies from using them to attack workers' rights. In fact, there are a number of precedents in which CN and CP have attempted to attack workers' rights and privileges. New Democrats object to clause 14 for this reason.
If the government were truly serious about improving railway safety, it would revise the standards regarding train operator fatigue. Train operators are under pressure from employers to work unreasonable hours, and as such, this demand by employers represents a real danger to the safety of workers and the public.
There is a better way. Canada needs and deserves an affordable, accessible, reliable, and sustainable system of public rail transit, and Canadians have the right to the highest levels of service, protection, and accessibility of travel that can be provided. Instead, we see the erosion of infrastructure due to the neglect and corporate offloading of maintenance responsibilities, and passengers are subjected to the cancellation of rail services across the country.
Canada has a growing population, families with children, disabled Canadians, and senior citizens who need to travel. At the same time, Canadians are conscious of the environmental legacy we are creating for future generations. With proper stewardship and a visionary plan, we have the very real potential to revive our once thriving rail-travel industry. However, that kind of vision requires a federal government focused on national stewardship, rather than what both Liberal and Conservative governments did when they sold off national interests and pandered to those who bankrolled their campaigns.
It is because we need reliable rail service that I have drafted and tabled Bill , which would create a clear mandate for VIA Rail Canada. Canadians are weary of the refusal by the current government, as well as Conservative and Liberal governments in the past, to acknowledge the economic and environmental benefits of a truly enhanced, integrated, accessible, and sustainable rail transit system that would far outweigh and outlive short-term political gain. Past governments have failed to understand that everyone, from the youngest Canadian to the seasoned commuter, benefits if rail travel is part of our future. I can tell members that this reality is not lost on the citizens of London and southwestern Ontario. They are the people who suffer from what is described, in the network southwest action plan, as the “mobility gap”.
Bill would provide the opportunity for Canadians and the current Parliament to evaluate cases where VIA Rail planned to eliminate a required router station. In addition, my bill would provide a legislative framework for VIA Rail's mandate as a crown corporation to make services mandatory, set minimum frequencies for certain itineraries, and increase levels of service with regard to punctuality. It would provide a transparent and democratic means to evaluate any proposed cancellation of service routes and a framework for managing and funding VIA Rail. It would help prioritize passenger trains where and when there were conflicts with freight trains and would create efficiencies. I encourage members on all sides of this House to support Bill when it comes to the floor for second reading.
In a previous parliament, the NDP introduced a bill setting out clear steps to establish a passenger bill of rights. The current supported our bill. He could have followed our lead and introduced concrete measures to protect airline passengers but instead handed off responsibility for making regulations to the Canadian Transportation Agency.
The NDP proposal for a passenger bill of rights included measures to ensure that airlines would have to offer passengers the choice between a full refund and re-routing under comparable conditions when flights were cancelled. Air carriers that failed to comply would have to pay $1,000 in compensation to every passenger affected, in addition to the refund. Also, when an aircraft was held on the ground for more than one hour, the airline would have to provide passengers with adequate food, drinking water, and other refreshments, as well as compensation of $100 for each additional hour the flight was held on the ground.
Witness testimony tells us that such measures could result in flight cancellation rates four times lower than those experienced in Canada. The Liberals heard this testimony in committee, yet they rejected amendments from the NDP based on this solid evidence. It leads me to wonder what their motivation was and where their loyalties lie.
It is unacceptable for the government to shift the responsibility of protecting passenger rights to the Canadian Transportation Agency. Passengers and airlines need clear measures to discourage overbooking, and we need those measures now. The minister promised them for sometime in 2018. That is not good enough.
While our objections to Bill are many, I want to focus on one final point. Omnibus Bill would amend the Canada Marine Act to permit 18 port authorities to obtain financing from the Canada Infrastructure Bank. My New Democrat colleagues and I have spoken on the dangers of the Infrastructure Bank and will continue to do so as long as it exists as a loophole for selling off publicly funded infrastructure projects and public services to private corporations. We know that this transfer of public assets will allow private corporations to impose user fees and tolls on Canadians who have already paid hard-earned tax dollars for their public services.
Bill would allow private investors to provide loans to port authorities using the Infrastructure Bank. It would allow those private investors to charge high rates of interest on those loans, with the consumer footing the bill. In addition, ports whose building projects were valued at less than $100 million may not be eligible for Infrastructure Bank loans and so would be left without any resources. The cost of the required return on investment by these lenders could affect consumers, since many goods are transported through our ports.
New Democrats are wary of any legislation that shrouds the poisoned pill of selling off our valuable public assets and services to private corporations. Governments do not exist to serve private profits. At best, it appears that Liberals do not seem to understand that. At its cynical worst, they do understand and hope Canadians will not notice as they sell this country off to their corporate friends without any consideration for the public good. Either way, Bill is a flawed and poorly crafted piece of legislation that New Democrats cannot and will not support.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand today to discuss Bill .
However, before I get to the meat of the bill, I want to quote from liberal.ca/realchange, which says, “We will not resort to legislative tricks to avoid scrutiny. Stephen Harper has also used omnibus bills to prevent Parliament from properly reviewing and debating his proposals.” It goes on to say, “We will change the House of Commons Standing Orders to bring an end to this undemocratic practice.” However, what do we have before us? Like budget bills and others before it, the Liberals have introduced an omnibus bill.
In the bill, there are air passenger rights, with subsections on liberalized international ownership rules; joint ventures between air carriers; increased access to security screening services; rail initiatives with subsections under locomotive voice and video recorders; freight rail policy framework; and another area under marine initiatives that includes items such as would amend the Coasting Trade Act and the Canada Marine Act to permit Canada port authorities to access Canada Infrastructure Bank loans and loan guarantees to support investments in key enabling infrastructure.
We also know the infrastructure bank was introduced in a different omnibus bill. Ironies of ironies, the Liberals put time allocation on this omnibus bill after promising to never do either. The Liberals said that they would never be so cynical as to introduce omnibus bills and they were so sure they would never use them that they made it a campaign promise to show Canadians they were so different from Stephen Harper. With this broken promise, it once again shows that the student has become the master.
While I am on broken promises, I will review some of the other broken promises of the government, such as a revenue-neutral middle-class tax cut. The Liberals said this tax cut would pay for itself by increasing taxes on the wealthiest. Unfortunately, it has not. The tax cut is costing all Canadians $1.2 billion annually from the federal treasury. It is like borrowing against a line of credit and saying we just got wealthier, but it is not.
The Liberals promised modest deficits. They said that annual deficits would be just $10 billion a year, but they blew that out of the water pretty fast. Even with the economy doing well, the Liberal deficit will still be almost 100% higher than they had promised. They promised balance budgets. They said the budget would be balanced, probably balancing itself, with a $1-billion surplus in 2019-20. Now we know they will not commit to a balanced budget ever.
The Liberals promised revenue-neutral carbon pricing. They said the plan would be revenue neutral for the federal government, but we know that is not true because they are charging GST on the provincial carbon taxes, which is expected to cost Albertans and British Columbians almost a quarter of a billion dollars over two years.
On electoral reform, we were famously told that the 2015 election would be the very last using the first past the post balloting system. On this side, we have always said that if the government is going to fundamentally change the way citizens elect their government, there should be a referendum. Therefore, I am not that sad to see this promise broken, but it still shows a pattern.
The Liberals make promises to get elected and then throw the promises under the bus faster than, say, the threw Revenue Canada employees under the bus over her mess-up with taxing minor employee benefits.
The government promised an open and transparent government. This one is an omnibus of broken promises.
I will read from the mandate letters to ministers, which state, “You are expected to do your part to fulfill our government’s commitment to transparent, merit-based appointments”. Here are some of the merit-based appointments. The former chair of the Liberal election campaign in Ontario was appointed to an ambassador role. A failed Liberal nomination candidate was appointed to the VIA Rail board. Another failed Liberal candidate, who already said she would run again, was appointed as the director of the Hamilton Port Authority. A Liberal described as a friend of Gerry Butts, who ran twice for the Liberals unsuccessfully, was given a plum government position in San Francisco at double—yes, double—the official pay scale.
The 's mandate letter includes this doozy, “your private affairs should bear the closest public scrutiny. This is an obligation that is not fully discharged by simply acting within the law.” Here we have the finance minister, who, before entering politics, lobbied for a change in the pension system that would benefit his company, Morneau Shepell. What did he do after he was elected and became the country's top financial regulator? He sponsored the very bill he lobbied for before entering politics, but excuses it by saying he was following the letter of the law.
There is also the failed Access to Information Act we debated just recently. The Information Commissioner herself said that she was very disappointed with the act, that it was being used as a shield against transparency, and that it was failing to meet its policy objectives to foster accountability and trust in our government.
I will now move on to Bill . It is unfortunate the government has once again chosen to break its promise and presented yet another omnibus bill to the House.
Bill is like a game of three card monte. That is where the dealer shows that one of the cards is the target card and then rearranges the cards quickly to confuse the player about which card is which. Except in the case of Bill , instead of the queen of hearts, the minister is presenting the passenger bill of rights as the target. He hides the flaws and omissions of the bill under the guise of passenger protection, referring constantly to the much-reported United Airlines incident where someone was dragged from the plane, as if something like that had happened here.
He also tries to pretend that government regulation is what is needed to prevent those situations in Canada. We all have our own horror stories of airline travel. What would address this issue is not half-hearted regulations, but more competition.
Changing the foreign ownership limit to 49%, up from 25%, is a good start, but why limit it at all? If we want improved service and other issues, then open up the market to more competition. We saw how this worked when WestJet entered the market. Nothing has done more to force better pricing and service from airlines across the country than having WestJet expand across Canada.
Why not focus on this, instead of measures that are rolled out populist-style to take advantage of consumer sentiment influenced by a viral video.
A University of Toronto report has found that relative to Americans, we often pay between 50% and 100% more for comparable travel between Canadian cities. Various expert reviews of the airline industry, including by the Competition Bureau, have recommended allowing a right of establishment for foreign carriers on domestic routes to put pressure on our airlines to improve.
The airlines might argue that foreign carriers would only operate on lucrative routes. However, Canadian carriers are under no obligation to fly to money-losing destinations currently, and there is no proof that the airlines are presently cross-subsidized to operate otherwise unprofitable routes.
One of the problems of this part of the bill is that it amends the Canada Transportation Act with regard to joint ventures, taking away decision-making authority from the Commissioner of Competition, and places the power in the hands of the minister. Yes, giving the minister the power to interfere for political reasons is just what is needed to improve airline service and lower rates—said no one ever.
The CAA, the Canadian Automobile Association, notes that the Bill relies on a complaint from a passenger in order to trigger action. The Canadian Transportation Agency cannot initiate domestic investigations on its own. Advocates and organizations can not intervene and each complaint is handled as a one-off, adding time and delays.
It is worth noting that the CTA was able to initiate hearings into the recent infamous Air Transat situation only because it concerned an international flight. The CTA would not have the authority, even under Bill , to decide itself to hold a hearing into a similar situation if the flight occurred within Canada. Nor would the CTA be able to examine any broader systemic issues the CTA might note that did not come from a specific complaint and would have to ask the minister for permission to investigate them.
Noted passenger rights advocate, Gabor Lukacs, says the bill is “smoke, mirrors and has no teeth”, and contains no provisions about the enforcement of rights of the passengers. He says, “This strikes me as an an attempt to shield airlines from complaints and further prevent the public from ensuring their right.”:
He says that Bill C-49 contains no provisions about the enforcement and that it passes the buck to the Canadian Transportation Agency to establish standards at some point in the future. What we need is more competition, not relatively toothless regulations basically responding to a United Airlines' video that went viral.
We do not need regulations that will increase airport costs and thus ticket costs, which will happen as airports expand screening services and are permitted to independently decide how to cover costs. We all know how that will end: with consumers paying more.
There is quite a few other issues on this bill. We would have preferred that it be broken up into several bills to address.
It is unfortunate that once again the government is hiding poor legislation in an omnibus bus, and Canadians will be the poorer for it.
Madam Speaker, as it often happens, the Liberal government's bills first and foremost protect big businesses, at the expense of the rights of workers and consumers. By amending 13 acts, the omnibus Bill is no exception. There is certainly no doubt that the Liberal members are going to support this bill, but I would still like to remind the House why the New Democrats want to oppose it.
After two years of waiting, the minister wants us to rush through a bill that is deeply flawed and primarily favours the interests of foreign investors, while violating the rights of workers and consumers. I will explain all the reasons why the New Democrats oppose Bill C-49.
First, in 2012, the NDP tabled Bill , which clearly outlined the measures to be taken to create a proper passengers' bill of rights. This bill set out concrete measures, for example, providing for appropriate compensation for passengers who were denied boarding. That could have amounted to $600 for flights of 3,500 km or more. However, the Liberals voted against the amendment that proposed to include this bill of rights in Bill C-49, without even trying to study it.
Why did the reject our amendment? He could have taken a page from our proposal, which included concrete measures to protect air travellers. It is even harder to understand when we consider the findings of a study showing that 0.4% of EU-regulated flights are cancelled, which is four times lower than the cancellation rate of flights under current Canadian regulations. It seems clear that the Liberals are giving in to pressure from the airlines and turning a blind eye to the studies on the issue.
Bill would also require railway companies to install voice and video recorders in the locomotive cabs. This seems to make sense for dealing with accidents, but it must not prompt the railways to use this information for surveillance or disciplinary purposes. That is why we are calling for the use of these voice and video recordings to be reserved exclusively for the Transportation Safety Board.
The provisions of Bill C-49 are not clear enough and do not spell out how the train conductors' private information will be used by the railways. For example, the minister could decide by regulation that a train conductor's hourly productivity is something to take in consideration in a safety review. Following that reasoning, Via Rail Canada could use this data to manage employee performance, for example, during a stop at the Saint-Hyacinthe station.
The employees are refusing to give up their right to privacy. The government is not listening to the testimony of people like Roland Hackl, vice-president of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference. According to him, the bill, as currently drafted, goes against the employees' rights as Canadians, and he is right. Bill might be in contravention of section 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms because it would authorize the government or employers to gather private information without providing adequate protections. What is more, according to the findings of a Transport Canada working group, voice and video recordings are not part of proactive safety management.
The NDP therefore proposed a series of amendments to ensure that only the Transportation Safety Board could have access to the recordings in the event of an accident. Our amendments would also guarantee that the minister and the railways would not be able to use the voice and video recordings. Obviously, the Liberals in committee once again summarily dismissed these proposals.
I would like to talk about the change in the agreement between the airlines included in Bill . Currently, the competition commissioner may make an application to the Competition Tribunal to propose the rejection of a merger of airline companies that stifles competition. The Competition Tribunal therefore has the authority to cancel a merger or a part thereof. However, under Bill C-49, the Minister of Transport will now have the final say in the matter.
As soon as the minister approves the agreement, the Competition Tribunal can do nothing to stop it. The NDP is opposed to clause 14 of the bill because it gives the minister the power to supervise and authorize joint ventures between airlines.
Imagine if Air Canada submitted a proposal to merge with United Airlines. Even if the commissioner found that the agreement would reduce competition among airlines and could raise ticket prices, the minister could still approve the merger if he or she deemed it to be in the “public interest”. I challenge the minister to provide a precise definition of that term. In Bill , it is so vague that the minister could include reasons that are not in Canadians' interest but in the interest of shareholders of major airlines. The Liberal government is trying to erode our consumer watchdog's authority.
Bill would also amend the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority Act, the CATSA act.
Instead of designating new airports and helping regional airports grow, the government is passing the cost of security screening on to them.
Why did the government not propose a fairer model in which CATSA is responsible for funding screening and security services?
The government has been withdrawing funding from this area for a long time. Statistics Canada data shows that the former government collected $636 million from the public but that it allocated only $550 million of that amount to air security. The Liberal government is no better, since it has continued to underfund CATSA. Clause 69 of the bill provides for the addition of subsection 30.1(1) to the act, under which any airport can enter into an agreement with CATSA to provide new screening and security services.
Everything is fine up to that point. However, it is up to the airport to pay for these new services, which means that passengers will be the ones to foot the bill. In contrast, the NDP proposed that public funding be put in place for the development of regional airports. Our amendment would have also prevented designated airports, such as those in Montreal and Toronto, from being forced to absorb the cost of enhancing security services.
Indirectly, our amendment also sought to ensure that the cost of enhancing security is not passed on to passengers via ticket prices. All of our proposals in that regard were also rejected. Unfortunately, that is not surprising. That is how the government has been withdrawing funding from regional airports and screening and security services in large airports.
The government wants users to cover the cost of its own policy of underfunding. Bill also creates a loophole in the Coasting Trade Act in clauses 70 to 72. We are asking that these clauses be deleted from the bill. Canadian shipowners and sailors' jobs—and I should point out that my son is a sailor—must be protected from unfair competition from ships registered in the European Union.
Why would that competition be unfair?
Simply because labour on EU-registered ships is not subject to the same requirements as labour on Canadian ships. Under the provisions of Bill , crew costs for European ships authorized to navigate in Canadian waters are 30% of Canadian crew costs. What is even more appalling is that there is no reciprocity whatsoever. In fact, the minister could decide to allow the repositioning of empty containers by ships registered abroad, while Canadian ships will not have reciprocal access to the EU market.
We would also like to see clauses 73 and 74 deleted from Bill C-49, as those clauses authorize the Canada Infrastructure Bank to provide loans to port authorities.
Lastly, with regard to Bill , I want to point out that we fully support improving the rights of air travellers and protections for grain shippers. Many grain farmers have acknowledged that Bill C-49 is a step in the right direction.
Grain farmers have, however, proposed measures that go even further.
I will close by saying that we strongly oppose Bill .
Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to talk about what I term the “treat and trick” bill. It is in keeping with the season that is upon us. I call it that as it is being brought through as a bill of rights for passengers. It has been a topic of debate beyond this place, around the coffee tables and coffee shops in northern Alberta, particularly after some events in the media.
Here we are debating a bill of rights for passengers. One of the things that is beautiful about Canada is that we live in what we think of as a free trading country and no one is under any obligation to provide or buy services. Free trade and active competition allow us to travel fairly cheaply.
However, the bill of rights that would result from this bill may impede our free will or ability to choose a plane to fly on. As we impose a bill of rights upon airline carriers, it may be difficult for them to provide the same level of services they currently do at the same rates. We already have some of the most expensive air traffic rates in the world. With an increased burden upon them, the air carriers may increase the price.
That is definitely the main reason why I call it the “treat and trick” bill. While everyone likes the idea of a bill of rights, we do not really know what it will look like. The bill only lays out the framework to write it, not the actual details. There are many other things that slid underneath the first page of the bill, such as rail safety and interswitching.
Up in northern Alberta, rail is a big part of our transportation system. A lot of grains, cereal crops, and canola are grown in my riding. I heard from the Canola Growers Association of Canada that my riding might be the largest canola producing riding in the country and we utilize the rail system.
The interswitching that was brought in before, of 160 kilometres, worked very well for the grain farmers. However, given that my riding is 700 kilometres from top to bottom, people felt that it should have been increased much beyond 160 kilometres. Some of the grain that is grown in my riding is 700 kilometres from Edmonton or the nearest terminal in Westlock. Increasing the competition may bring the rail up north more effectively, perhaps to a loading terminal or that kind of thing.
Interswitching is a big deal. I have heard from my constituents that they are disappointed that the particular method that had been brought in by the previous Conservative government was not continued in this bill. The Liberal government talks about interswitching and making it better, but the regulations and different scenarios that have to be in place are convoluted and have many loopholes. Producers in my riding are concerned that the interswitching proposed in this bill would not have a positive effect on getting their products to market.
We heard very eloquently from the member for about how it is imperative that we get the products that are produced in Canada to market. That is the stated goal of the bill as well, yet we see that it is not going to happen with the interswitching as it is laid out in the bill.
Finally, I want to talk about section 14 of the bill, particularly joint ventures. I understand a joint venture is where two airlines happen to fly similar routes between two cities and could get together in a joint venture and say they will fly to some cities together rather than competing with each other. When two airlines get together, the Competition Bureau must do an assessment and say they can work in a joint venture or no, it is going to lower competition and that would be detrimental to the public interest or to folks flying on the airplanes.
The bill proposes to change that requirement not only to have the Competition Bureau look at it, but also have the minister put a political lens on it. The term that the bill uses is “in the public interest”. I would say that the ability to use the airline, the ability to be able to afford to use the airline, and to ensure that everything is done safely would be in the public interest.
Most of these things can be dealt with. The safety aspect definitely needs to be addressed by the government, but the other two can be adequately addressed by competition. We need to ensure that there is more competition. Some of the things that the bill proposes to do are going to make it more difficult for airlines to come into the fore when it comes to rates at airports. We have seen the government in the area when it comes to conflicts of interest. We would like to see the minister sign-off be taken out of the bill because, as we have seen with other ministers of the crown, they have not been able to avoid conflicts of interest. This would place a potential transport minister in a conflict of interest when he has to judge on joint venture deals.
The government would like us to think this is all about a passenger bill of rights, but we see there are a number of other things in it that would do nothing to improve passengers' rights and would also perhaps place ministers in conflicts of interest.