Bill C-26 (Historical)
Canada Border Services Agency Act
An Act to establish the Canada Border Services Agency
This bill was last introduced in the 38th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in November 2005.
Anne McLellan Liberal
This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.
Canada Transportation Act
February 28th, 2007 / 4:05 p.m.
Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-11. I hope that this bill will be passed.
Earlier, I asked my Liberal colleague some questions. Things are not easy in this Parliament, particularly because of the very different approaches to development or to problems the public may be having. Too often, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party have great plans, but neither of them solves people's real problems. Bill C-11 will try to offer a little salve for the wounds of people who are suffering all sorts of upsets because of railway company operations.
The railway industry is expanding rapidly and has undergone major technological changes. Although it provides a useful and increasingly profitable service, it imposes constraints on the neighbouring communities. This has gone on for years, as I said earlier.
The problems associated with the noise, vibration and odours generated by railway operations as a whole have existed for a long time and are becoming more serious with the development of new technologies.
The people listening to us—Quebeckers and Canadians—will understand that for reasons having to do with economies of scale, the way things are done in the railway industry has changed. For one thing, in the mid-1990s, coupling of locomotives and cars was done by human beings. Starting in the mid-1990s or early years of this century, human beings were replaced by remote coupling, which is done electronically or electrically.
Once this way of doing things was changed, once they wanted to achieve economies of scale by reducing the number of employees in switching yards, the problems associated with noise, vibration and odours became worse. This is done following Transport Canada's standards. As yet, there is no technology that would allow this to be done while making the least noise possible. Since the mid-1990s, many groups of people who live alongside switching yards have got together and formed associations to try to control the noise and odour pollution generated by the railway industry.
Wanting to limit problems for neighbouring communities does not mean being opposed to rail transportation. On the contrary, we want the rail industry to expand. Railway companies, like Canadian Pacific and Canadian National, make profits. While they had some problems during the 1980s and 1990s, I think that since that time they have paid their shareholders a very handsome return. In fact, it rises every quarter.
Phenomenal profits are being made. Profits like these had never before been made in the railway industry.
Pressure is being taken off the roads, and that can help combat greenhouse gases. We are aware of this. Rail transportation can limit greenhouse gases, because it reduces the number of trucks on the roads. It also imposes constraints, however.
Since 2000, that is, since the 37th Parliament, this House has been trying to solve the noise problem. The Liberals introduced Bill C-26. It was virtually an omnibus bill which addressed a number of problems in the railway, airline and other industries, and which made VIA Rail an independent corporation, a corporation with share capital. This could have helped it to expand. From the outset, the Conservatives were against expansion by VIA Rail, which could have engineered its own expansion and could have created VIAFast. Members will recall that debate. The Liberals were divided: there was the Chrétien clan and the clan led by the member for LaSalle—Émard. The result was division on Bills C-26 and C-44. Bill C-26, which was introduced in the 37th Parliament, never saw the light of day because of that division. In the 38th Parliament, Bill C-44 also failed to get passed.
Once again, the people who live near marshalling yards and suffer from the noise pollution and other by-products of the railway industry have not seen any improvement. This problem was buried in omnibus bills. One of the methods used by the Conservative Party in this 39th Parliament was to divide the previous Bill C-44, which was debated in the 38th Parliament, into three.
The Conservatives say now that they broke it up in order to speed things along, but they are concealing the real reason, which is that they wanted to remove everything that had to do with VIA Rail from Bill C-44.
The Conservatives have never wanted the railways to really develop. They did not want the railway companies to compete with airlines for passengers. That was their choice. They wanted to protect WestJet rather than help rail develop sufficiently, the kind of development that the Bloc Québécois has always supported.
It is very important for the transportation sector to become more competitive. Rail is healthy competition for the airlines. There is talk of a fast train, although not a high speed train, between Quebec and Montreal and Montreal and Windsor. The Bloc Québécois has always supported this vision. The Conservatives, though, divided up Bill C-44 because they did not want VIA Rail to become an independent corporation ensuring its own development or the famous VIAFast project to see the light of day, that is to say, a fast Quebec City-Montreal, Montreal-Windsor train. That is the real reason.
All the same, we would have supported an omnibus bill that included all of Bill C-44. We supported Bills C-44 and C-26 at the time, and now we support Bill C-11, which will deal once and for all with the noise pollution problem.
It is never simple. I use this example because, at the same time, the people listening to us will understand how Parliament works. It is never simple. Insofar as the noise issue is concerned, the Conservatives took it upon themselves to bring a bill forward that touches on this problem. However, there is not just noise pollution but also vibration pollution and fumes. There are all kinds of sources of environmental pollution.
During our discussions with the government about Bill C-44, we touched on these issues but were not successful because of the entire VIA Rail question, even though we were working on fixing the pollution problems. If we are going to fix them, let us really do it. But with government things are never as straightforward as that. We have to understand. The Conservatives have never had any vision of the future; it is always short-term. So they decided today to include noise pollution in Bill C-11. Like us, all my colleagues and all the citizens out there say that if they are going to fix the railway pollution problem, why not take advantage of this opportunity to include fumes in the bill and the issue of locomotives turning night and day and producing fumes and environmental problems.
Sometimes you walk along the rails and you see pollution. Because the rails have been changed, stacks of wood are piled up along the tracks, and so on. The Bloc Québécois wanted to solve all the environmental problems related to railways, but the government decided that the noise was the problem. The Bloc Québécois tried in committee to put forward its own proposals. We wanted to solve the problems of noise, vibrations and fumes. We had clearly understood that, by including only noise, Conservatives did not want to solve all the environmental problems. So we went with vibrations and we asked ourselves whether we could perhaps solve at the same time the problems of vibrations and fumes from locomotives.
This is where we attack the law clerk of the House. The government knows quite well that, when it introduces a bill, we cannot move the amendments that we want, even though we have a lot of goodwill, even though all my colleagues from the Bloc Québécois are experiencing major problems, since, for example, some of their fellow citizens live close to the Moreau railroad yard, in Hochelaga, or the Joffre railroad yard, in Lévis. Even though this committee is now represented by a Conservative, we will ensure that all this will change in the next election. However, the fact remains that the people of Lévis complained to us and we never stopped defending their interests. There is the same problem close to the Farnham railroad yard, in Brome—Missisquoi, and to the Pointe-Saint-Charles railroad yard, in Jeanne-Le Ber, east of Montreal. All these people wanted us to solve all these problems, including fumes. Thus, we introduced an amendment, but the whole part concerning fumes was taken out. The law clerk of the House told us that it was out of order.
So, it is not like we did not try. We wanted to show our goodwill and our good faith in this issue. We tabled everything that we could think of. We even wanted to include public health, because there are now international standards on noise pollution. We really wanted to comply with public health standards. One of our amendments asked that public health not be unreasonably affected, given these essential operational needs. We wanted to include the issue of public health in the bill.
However, because the bill introduced by the Conservative Party was totally silent on public health, the law clerk of the House told us that this amendment, even though quite interesting, was out of order, because it would change the meaning of the legislation.
Those citizens who are listening to us must understand that a government is something that is complex. And when it is a Conservative government, it is twice as complex. That is how things work. That is the reality. The government uses every possible trick to prevent us from succeeding and achieving our objectives. In this case, we were able to reach an agreement on noise.
So, as we are speaking, clause 95.1 of the bill reads as follows:
When constructing or operating a railway, a railway company, must cause as little noise and or vibration as possible,...
This is what we have before us now. The original bill introduced by the Conservative Party talked about not making unreasonable noise.
We managed to get an amendment in that goes further. That was done with the support of the Conservatives, who finally realized that we wanted at least to settle once and for all the issue of noise and vibration, so that we would no longer talk about it, and so that citizens would be able to win their cases.
So, we managed to agree to include the expression “as little noise and or vibration as possible”.
One day, this bill will come into force, but not today. It is at third reading stage, then it has to go to the Senate and come back here. Canadian federalism is complicated. There is another chamber, the upper chamber, called the Senate. It has to study the same bills. The Bloc Québécois has been wanting to get rid of the Senate for a long time. The Conservatives have decided that senators will be elected by universal suffrage. We are far from getting rid of it. The federation will become even more complicated. However, one day, we will no longer be here—we hope. One day, Quebeckers will decide to have their own country and they will not have a Senate. That will be best. There will just be a parliament and it will be far less complicated.
However, in the current situation, the bill as amended by the Bloc Québécois, among others, reads as follows at clause 95.1:
When constructing or operating a railway, a railway company, must cause as little noise and or vibration as possible, taking into account
(a) its obligations under sections 113 and 114, if applicable;
This has to do with operations.
(b) its operational requirements;
(d) the potential impact on persons residing in properties adjacent to the railway.
We managed to get that included. The following clause—and this is the crux of the bill—gives powers to the Transportation Agency, which is new. During its operations, it will have to take into account the potential impact on persons residing in properties adjacent to the railway. From now on, it will have to take into account those who live close by when there are problems with noise and vibration. That is how it will be for their operations.
Clause 95.2 states:
The Agency shall issue and publish, in any manner that it considers appropriate, guidelines with respect to:
This requires the Transportation Agency to establish and publish guidelines that the railway companies will have to follow. Just to get this part into the bill required many hours of discussion. Finally, the agency can be forced to establish and publish guidelines. It is all well and good to say there will be as little noise and vibration as possible, but there still need to be guidelines. This bill will force the agency to establish and publish guidelines.
Once the guidelines have been established and the railways are operational, we proceed to clause 95.3.
On receipt of a complaint made by any person that a railway company is not complying with section 95.1, the Agency may order the railway company to undertake any changes in its railway construction or operation that the Agency considers reasonable to cause as little noise or vibration as possible, taking into account factors referred to in that section.
Before this bill, the Canadian Transportation Agency had no power. Its only role was that of intermediary. Judicial power was tested in that respect in an Ontario court.
One might have thought that after getting involved in a file and participating in negotiations, Transport Canada could have made recommendations and ordered the company to take certain measures if no agreement could be reached in the end. In a decision concerning an Ontario community, the Ontario court ruled that the Canadian Transportation Agency had no power, that it was simply a mediator, not even an arbitrator. It could participate in discussions, but it had no power.
The real purpose of this bill is to give the Canadian Transportation Agency the power to order measures to be taken. That is, once it receives a complaint, it will analyze it and order the railway company to take measures.
Recently, I met with the Railway Association of Canada, which turned up practically in tears to tell us that it made no sense to force railway companies to produce as little noise and vibration as possible.
I might ask all railway employees, who work very hard, why we have this bill before us today. I might also ask the shareholders and the companies that are making healthy profits and doing good business why we are debating this bill. We are debating it because they have been so remiss in past years that we have no choice.
Personally, I took part in a meeting with citizens who live around the Moreau marshalling yard in Hochelaga; the railway company was also present. I will not say its name because they are all the same, regardless of which one it is, and I do not want to discriminate. So I participated in the discussions. It was easy to see that the employees taking part were there under duress. The member for Hochelaga was present to listen to the citizens. I was there as the transportation critic for the Bloc Québécois. My colleague from Hochelaga and the community, who had been following the Ontario decision, were very well informed and proposed some mitigation solutions to the representatives of the railway company. These people seemed interested but in the end nothing ever came about. That is how it is.
It was the same thing when I met with citizens’ groups in the Joffre marshalling yard in Charny. I had a chance to meet the Mayor of Charny, who is now a councillor for the City of Lévis and who really took an interest in this file. It was and still is the same thing. The companies listen, but in the end, when they have to spend some money, it does not go anywhere, not to the next level up anymore than to the board of directors.
Since I am being told I have two minutes left, I am going to use them wisely.
This is how we have ended up where we are today. The Bloc Québécois does not want to be one of those who would prevent the railway from developing. On the contrary, we know that it is developing just fine, that business is good and that it is probably time to put things in order and do something about the pollution that railways can cause. There is noise pollution and other kinds of nuisances.
We will not fix all that today, as I said. And it is not because the colleagues of the Bloc Québécois would not have liked this bill to solve all the nuisances caused by railways. Given that the industry is doing well, maybe it is time for it to make some investments.
At least today the noise and vibration problems should be solved. For any citizens who live along railways or near railway yards this bill should solve any noise and vibration problems they experience. From now on complaints can be filed with the Canadian Transportation Agency, which can intervene and, in accordance with the provision contained in paragraph 93(3), order the railways to take action. The Agency will be able to order railway companies to take remedial action.
Obviously this does not solve the other problems. In committee, communities came to tell us that the trains are increasingly long. In some places, they are even afraid that emergency services cannot get through. That obviously includes ambulances, firefighters, and all sorts of services. Actually the trains are so long that they block entry into entire neighbourhoods. This problem is not dealt with in the bill. I hope that the government one day will listen and table new bills that will deal with all these issues.
Transportation Amendment Act
November 28th, 2005 / 5:25 p.m.
Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Mirabel, QC
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on Bill C-44, whose title bears repeating: An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act, to enact the VIA Rail Canada Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
This is an important bill. In fact, it is an exact copy of Bill C-26, which the government had introduced in the previous Parliament. This is surprising, since this bill, when it was introduced the last time, was almost a national emergency. We had worked hard in order to make the government understand that some parts of the legislation needed to be reviewed and amended, but there was suddenly an election. The current Prime Minister decided to call a snap election and, ultimately, the bill died on the order paper.
So it is surprising to see this bill introduced once again, when we know full well that this government will fall today. We are talking about it, but everyone in the House is well aware that this bill will not, once again, be passed in this parliamentary session.
Ultimately, members are here, particularly when considering bills such as this, to defend the interests of their constituents. Earlier, my colleague from Lévis—Bellechasse told the House about the potential problems in his riding due to the Charny yard. Likewise, my colleague from Hochelaga just talked about similar problems experienced by the constituents in his riding due to the noise from the Moreau yard, in Montreal.
Clearly, the Bloc Québécois wants to resolve these problems. As my colleague from Hochelaga said so well, the unrelenting efforts of my colleague from Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher forced the Minister of Transport to re-introduce this bill. We wish it had been introduced last spring, but it was put off. The Minister of Transport made that decision. I am always surprised to see the member for Outremont tearfully defending public interests when he knows full well that the public deserves to see its interests defended on several fronts with regard to transportation. He will not have done so, because once again, this bill will go no further.
The problem of citizens who live close to railroad yards in Quebec and in Canada and are bothered by the noise of whistles will not be solved because the bill will not be adopted by this House, even though the Bloc Québécois wants to take part in the debate, discuss the bill and move it to the next step. That is what we would want. However, it is worth talking about the bill today. It is by talking about it and explaining its importance to Liberal members that we will surely see it adopted during the next Parliament.
The bill has four parts: one on railway transport; a second one on air transport; a third one on complaints; and finally, one on VIA Rail. As for railway transport, it is a rapidly evolving market. We saw the rail market go through a low and it is now picking up momentum. All those who saw railway lines disappear here and there in Canada will be surprised to see new advocates for railway transport or new stakeholders in the area.
I had the chance to experience the situation in my former incarnation. Before being a member of Parliament, I was reeve of Papineau regional county municipality. There still is a railroad in Papineau. It now belongs to an independent corporation which manages it under the name Quebec Gatineau Railway. At one time, Canadian Pacific wanted to dispose of the railroad and transfer responsibility for it to the adjacent landowners. I was one of the first persons to intervene and say that the Outaouais did not have a highway. At the time, there was no highway 50 and it has not been completed yet, but it is in the development phase now. That could be the subject of a debate at a later date. So losing the railway meant losing all industrial development potential.
We had no road networks, no highways and we were losing the railway. All the mayors from the communities and municipalities along that track got together. Since the track was going to be removed, everyone got together and agreed that it made no sense to do so. There was potential, industries and clients. Canadian Pacific waged an all-out war until, because of my position as chair of the Outaouais economic council, we made an offer to Canadian Pacific. We simply told them that since they thought the track may never be profitable to them, they could offer it to independent railway owners.
Believe or not, when the call for tenders went out, CP got eight responses, thus eight potential buyers. This railway is in operation today and is called the Quebec-Gatineau Railway. It is a shortline. It is therefore run by an independent, privately owned company. It is a profitable company and it allows the entire region to still develop its industry and have the railway as an industrial benefit.
However, other regions were not as lucky. Train tracks have been removed and others are on the chopping block. The purpose of this bill, among other things, was to allow defunct railways to be handed over to the municipalities and public transportation agencies first.
My riding starts in Gatineau and ends at the border of Saint-Eustache, at the edge of the Montreal urban community, which currently includes Mirabel. In the coming years we hope Mirabel can benefit from light rail public transportation. That would help in the development of the entire Saint-Augustin sector, the entire Saint-Janvier region and other regions as well. These sectors could benefit from rail transportation. For the Mirabel—Saint-Janvier sector, I am referring to the Little Train from the North, which no longer exists today. Some corridors could reopen and light rail could be used for public transportation.
The purpose of this bill is to allow transfer of companies directly to public or municipal transportation agencies wanting said companies for public transportation purposes. There is a strong will on our part.
As we were saying earlier, one of the major concerns is noise. A policy needed to be established because too many people were complaining about being disrupted by the rail industry's operations.
I was asking my colleague from Hochelaga earlier if he did not think that one of the reasons this bill had come so late, and the Minister of Transport, the member for Outremont, had waited so long before bringing it forward, was because of the pressure and the lobbying from the railway industry. That is one of the main reasons. When we talk about changing the industry operations, about forcing it to comply with viable noise standards, the industry only sees big expenses. However, it is simply about how things are done. We have to change the way things are done.
Earlier, my colleague was referring to a noise barrier, to the construction of a soil fence which could block the noise in a whole sector. So, such solutions are not unthinkable. The problem is that the industry must change its operating methods.
Today, we no longer connect the railway cars and the locomotives by hand. It is done mechanically and electronically. To ensure that they are well connected and will not get disconnected, the connections are louder and louder, and more and more forceful. This creates noise, which causes damage. The communities living near the railway yards are more and more inconvenienced by the noise.
I was the president of the Quebec union of municipalities from 1997 to 2000. What the municipalities wanted was to be able to apply municipal antinoise or noise limitation bylaws to railway yards or to railway transport areas.
The federal government obviously rejected this possibility, because—as we know—there is the whole situation in which, in constitutional terms, federal laws take precedence over provincial laws, which take precedence over municipal laws. The government did not want to give up its right in this case. So it has to regulate noise. The problem is that there has never been any regulations on noise in federal legislation on transportation.
Today, they are proposing one possibility. My colleague from Hochelaga—Maisonneuve mentioned it earlier. Clause 32 is a beginning. The transportation agency—prior to today and the passage of this bill—had only qualified mediation powers. That is, it made recommendations to the industry. However, if the industry paid them no heed, then the transportation agency had no authority to force it, to provide a fine or to have the work done and to bill it.
The next version of the act should change that, we hope. Clause 32, which amends the Transportation Act, provides, “When constructing or operating a railway, a railway company must not cause unreasonable noise, taking into account—”.
So this is the first time the federal government would impose a standard on noise pollution on the railway transportation industry. Noise is in fact pollution. I will spare you all the studies that have been tabled. I had the opportunity to receive them from all the defence organizations. Noise pollution definitely exists. The human ear can tolerate a certain number of decibels. Beyond this level, the noise is intolerable and can make people deaf or ill. Obviously, it causes stress and many other symptoms. International studies have proven it. Furthermore, noise at nighttime must be quieter than in the daytime.
As my colleague from Hochelaga mentioned, in the marshalling yards, the problem lies in the fact that railway transportation runs 24 hours a day, to the detriment of the quality of life of people living near these yards.
I am calling on the railway transportation industry: you have to stop telling us that railroad yards were built before residential sectors and that people should not have built houses there. Let us never forget that, when these yards were first created, it was in areas that were developed or that were going to be developed and, in the end, houses were built around these industrial facilities. Today, understandably those who bought these houses can object to something that was not anticipated in the 17th and 18th centuries. Such is the reality.
This bill is a step in the right direction and that is why the Bloc Québécois would have supported it. We wanted to work in committee and to improve this legislation. That will not be the case, because the Minister of Transport took too long to reintroduce Bill C-44, which is a carbon copy of former Bill C-26. The minister cannot claim that this initiative required a tremendous amount of work. Of course, it is a rather large document of more than 90 pages, but it is a carbon copy of former Bill C-26, which had been introduced in the previous Parliament and which died on the order paper, because the Prime Minister and former Minister of Finance decided to call an election in the spring of 2004.
Today, in order to better understand this whole issue, it must also be realized that Bill C-44 sought to implement the VIA Rail Canada Act, which would have created VIA Rail. In fact, VIA Rail already exists, but this legislation would have made it an independent company. The only criticism that the Bloc Québécois could make—as is still the case—has to do with the fact that, currently, VIA Rail is still not subject to the Access to Information Act.
I remind the House about the Gomery commission and what happened regarding VIA Rail's president, Mr. Pelletier. He was in the hot seat a lot. He testified before the Gomery commission. He used VIA Rail's money to buy advertising from ad companies which were receiving kickbacks that were then given back to the Liberal Party.
That is what was revealed by the Gomery commission. The concern with this bill is essentially that it does not make VIA Rail subject to the Access to Information Act. There is no way of knowing how much the president or any of the employees are spending. Were lavish dinners held at the time when Justice Gomery released the reports on VIA Rail? There is no way of knowing if major expenditures were made or if the president treated his cronies to dinner. There is no way, because the Access to Information Act cannot be used to look at what is going on in this crown corporation, VIA Rail.
I am pleased to say that the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, on which I sit, asked the information commissioner to produce a bill, given that the government did not want to amend its Access to Information Act.
I am proud to say that, in the bill he submitted to our committee—which, incidentally, was reported on and, in turn, the report was unanimously passed by this House—the Information Commissioner of Canada, Mr. Reid, expressed the wish that a legislative amendment be passed as soon as possible, requiring VIA Rail to comply with the Access to Information Act, to allow members of the public, MPs and journalists to request documents from VIA Rail, with the exception of anything having to do with trade secrets. Any information on trade secrets would not come under the new Access to Information Act. The Minister of Transport could have dealt with this issue regarding VIA Rail. With the bill before us, he could have decided to immediately bring VIA Rail within the scope of the Access to Information Act—which has not been done—while at the same time protecting trade secrets; after all, we would not want VIA Rail to reveal its trade secrets.
What we do want is for VIA Rail and its employees to be required to disclose their expenses, so that we can get a clear picture of what the president of VIA Rail did, which was to buy advertising, or documentaries, singing the praises of Canada and making frequent investments that allowed ad agencies to pocket sizeable commissions.
The sponsorship scandal is based on this: take the people's money, the taxpayers' money, which our fellow citizens worked hard to earn with the sweat of their brows. They entrusted their tax dollars to the government. Then the Liberal government decided to give out contracts, directly or indirectly through such agencies as VIA Rail, to communications firms to promote and publicize Canada, or to private companies. There was a kickback system in place, however. This was termed a commission, and ranged between 15% and 20% of the total. It was pocketed by the communications agencies and then they gave part of it to the Liberal Party of Canada.
If I had not mentioned Canada in my explanation, many people listening to us would have thought of numerous other countries where there are dictatorships. In some of those countries, the taxpayers' money is used for other purposes, and that is what is happening here in Canada.
That is why the public and the opposition parties have decided today to defeat this government, to say it no longer has our confidence, for the pure and simple reason that we never again want a government in Canada to take the hard-earned money of its tax-paying citizens and use it for partisan vote-getting purposes. We never again want to see a government award contracts to advertising agencies, with generous commissions attached, and for those agencies to make contributions to the Liberal Party in return. We never want to see that again. That is why, today, this government will be defeated.
Obviously, what we have before us is a bill on transportation. Transportation is always important in our eyes, but it is also important for the government to understand today that, whether it be VIA Rail, Canada, Post, the Department of Public Works and Government Services, or all the money it can spend in advertising and promotion, the public will never again allow it to take its money, buy advertising, hand out bonuses or commissions to agencies, and then get kickbacks from them for the Liberal Party coffers.
Transportation Amendment Act
November 28th, 2005 / 3:45 p.m.
James Moore Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, BC
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-44, an act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act, to enact the VIA Rail Canada Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts. I do not think the Liberals, if they tried, could make a title more convoluted or longer. The bill was tabled in the House on March 24, 2005, over six months ago, and the Minister of Transport has shown zero interest in moving it forward since it was tabled. More serious than that, it shows that the Minister of Transport has very poor listening skills.
The Library of Parliament did an extensive analysis of Bill C-44 and stated:
The bill is similar in most aspects to its predecessor bill, C-26, the Transportation Amendment Act, which was introduced in the House of Commons on 23 February 2003.
That is correct. Bill C-44, the new transportation amendment act, is extremely similar to Bill C-26, the old transportation amendment act, which was introduced by the transport minister's predecessor, David Collenette. The fact that Bill C-44 is so similar to Bill C-26 is troubling in a number of ways.
First, on November 12, 2003 the Liberals let the old transportation amendment act die on the order paper when it became apparent that committee witnesses were not in favour of it.
Second, after the mini throne speech of February 2, 2004, the Liberals made no attempt to resuscitate the old transportation amendment act. Presumably the Liberals had learned of the act's flaws and were taking their time to draft much improved legislation.
After the June 28, 2004 election, the member for Outremont was appointed the Minister of Transport in this minority government. In his maiden speech on October 7, 2004 he spoke of his 12 years on the opposition benches and how he had worked hard during that time to restore public faith in elected officials. There was every reason to believe that the new minister, working in a minority government, was interested in seeking consensus and making a difference.
Indeed, on October 15, 2004, when the Conservative member for Niagara Falls stood in the House to debate the transport minister's first bill, he congratulated the minister for introducing legislation that corrected past mistakes. He said:
--[this] bill corrects the mistakes that were made in the last few years by the Liberal government.
I wish all the mistakes that the government has made could be so easily corrected and with so few consequences.
Everyone can imagine our surprise when the new transportation amendment act was tabled embracing virtually all of the old flaws of the old transportation amendment act. Not only was the new transport minister recycling legislation that had been killed by the previous government, he was reintroducing a bill which had been made partially irrelevant by the passage of time.
By way of example, the old transportation amendment act contained provisions that permitted a non-Canadian company to offer domestic air service for “any period of time”. At the time, Air Canada was about to file for protection from its creditors and there were no guarantees that its restructuring would be successful. Indeed, had Air Canada failed, permitting foreign carriers to offer some domestic capacity at least on a temporary basis might have been desirable.
However, the same text exists in the new bill in clause 19. Not only has Air Canada exited from its creditor protection, but WestJet has expanded coast to coast and has started Toronto-Charlottetown non-stop service. The scenario under which a foreign carrier might conceivably be permitted to serve the Canadian domestic market no longer exists. Worse, this clause is present in legislation tabled by the very same Minister of Transport who, in one of his first appearances before the transportation committee, called on members to explore air liberalization.
In fact, at the meeting he handed out a document improbably titled, “Air Liberalization: a Review of Canada's Economic Regulatory Regime as it Affects the Canadian Air Industry”. The transport committee took the minister seriously and conducted hearings into air liberalization, I should mention also at the cost of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars. Given his call for the committee to review Canada's economic and regulatory regime as it affects the Canadian air industry, the committee made recommendations on ways to improve the same regulatory regime for the benefit of the Canadian air industry and Canadian taxpayers.
The recommendations were unanimous and were the result of considerable industry input. The committee called on the government to reduce airport rents by at least 75% and reinvest the money received into airport infrastructure. Other recommendations included the elimination of the air transport security charge and cancelling the obligation of airport authorities to provide free rent to federal agencies.
Finally, there were calls on the federal government to pay for border clearance at airports with regular transborder and/or international services and to fund the cost of implementing federal regulations at small regional airports. The committee's report was tabled on May 19, 2005 and the Minister of Transport replied on September 21. In his response the minister rejected all of the committee's recommendations and justified airport rents as “the result of satisfying the government's real property policy, which is to receive a fair return on public assets that are being leased to private companies or commercialized entities”.
Yet Toronto's Lester B. Pearson International Airport, which handles 33% of Canada's commercial air traffic, will now pay 63% of Ottawa's total revenue from airport rent or airport taxes. Ottawa's greed for airport rent has made Toronto the most expensive place in the world to land an airplane.
Stanley Morais, general manager of El Al's Canadian operation, is on record as saying it costs the airline $12,000 to land a jumbo jet at Pearson international airport in Toronto, compared with $3,000 at Tel Aviv.
When we think of the cost of security at Tel Aviv, the fact that landing fees would be four times higher at Pearson is simply staggering. It is worse when we realize that much of the rent that the Toronto airport pays to Ottawa is for buildings that no longer exist, such as the outdated and recently demolished Terminal 1.
In fact, the blatant unfairness of Toronto's airport rent situation is underscored by the number of unlikely allies that have united their voices in a call to the Minister of Transport and the Liberal government to act. They include: the International Air Transport Association, the Air Transport Association of Canada, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, including all political parties, the Province of Ontario, the Liberal premier of Ontario, the Association of Airline Representatives in Canada, the Toronto Board of Trade, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Toronto Hotel Association, and the Canadian Tourism Association.
Let us not overlook the fact that Toronto's Pearson airport is Air Canada's hub, so it can be argued that extremely high airport taxes at Pearson airport affect the bottom line of the airline that just recently emerged from creditor protection.
Let me repeat that. The Minister of Transport says he is worried about Air Canada's financial health. Air Canada's hub is in Toronto. The fact that airport fees there were the second highest in the world and are now, because of recent changes, the highest in the world is because the Minister of Transport and the Liberal government are taxing that airport into the ground.
Nonetheless, because the minister is concerned about the potential failure of a Canadian carrier, the new Transportation Amendment Act that we are debating today contains the same clauses as the old bill, permitting him to allow a foreign carrier to offer domestic service in Canada under certain conditions.
This would be a huge step backwards. Not only does it ignore the tremendous management-union collaboration in restructuring Air Canada, but it ignores the fact that the problems in Canada's domestic airline industry are not solved by letting foreign carriers fly domestic routes. They are solved by lowering the government charges and fees that hamper the industry. Lowering government charges and fees is consistent with the unanimous recommendations of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, with the suggestions of all experts and with the advice given by virtually every witness, both foreign and Canadian, who has studied the matter.
Moreover, there is a very basic logical flaw in the proposal to let foreign carriers fly domestic routes under certain conditions. The proposal is based on the idea that where a domestic carrier has failed, a foreign carrier might fill the void, at least temporarily. However, this is by no means certain. In fact, on September 20 at the Airports Council International meeting in Toronto, JetBlue founder and president David Neeleman was asked if his low cost airline would consider serving Canada. “No,” he replied, “the bureaucracy and fees would kill us”.
Finally, the idea is 100% opposed to the spirit of what the Minister of Transport said when he appeared before the transport committee on February 21, 2005. He said:
Our objectives are to encourage the creation of new markets and services, to lower costs and increase competition in the interest of Canadians, while at the same time ensuring that the air transport industry remains strong and vital. We can do this by eliminating legislative and regulatory barriers and by changing the economic policies that unduly restrict air transport services.
Since that date, the minister appears to have ignored his own advice and the advice of the transport committee. Granting foreign carriers domestic rights in Canada without first demanding reciprocity would set a dangerous precedent and weaken our bargaining position when it comes time to expand the scope of the Canada-U.S. open skies agreement. This would truly undermine our ability to engage in the open skies negotiations that he says he favours.
I do not want to dwell only on clause 19 of the bill. I hold it up only as an example of how a clause that might have made sense two years ago is difficult, if not impossible, to justify today. Quite frankly, a transport minister who would reintroduce stale, two year old legislation from the last Parliament without updating it is not doing his job.
Canada's economy depends on transport and few industries are more fluid than the airline sector. The situation today is dramatically different from what existed two years ago. The fact that the past legislation was not updated and that the transport committee's recommendations were ignored raises serious questions about the transport minister and his job performance.
In fact, he should have a serious and very frank discussion with Louis Ranger, his deputy minister. Mr. Ranger is very aware of the flaws in the old Bill C-26. The fact that he would have allowed the Minister of Transport to re-table the same flawed bill under a new number makes me question the kind of advice that he is giving the minister in this minority government.
For example, on Tuesday, October 28, 2003, during the transport committee's hearings into the old Bill C-26, Mr. Sean Finn, senior vice-president and legal officer for Canadian National Railway, said:
Regarding clause 40, which deals with the competitive connection rate, this new regulatory provision could bring about re-regulation of the rail industry and, in the longer term, Canadian railways could be treated unfairly. It would provide our U.S. competitors with unfair advantages, which could affect the density of traffic required to sustain the Canadian network, thereby impacting all [Canadian] shippers.
Fundamentally, this provision would allow American railways doing business in Canada to benefit from a regulatory environment that could result in an unfair treatment for Canadian railways.
Essentially, if a shipper can request that we require Canadian railways to offer a rate that would allow him to ship his products all the way to [an] American railway doing business in Canada, we recommend that this provision be applicable only if the American railway is also required to provide the same advantages to CN or CP when they are doing business in the United States. So we are essentially demanding that we ensure a level playing field, in terms of operations and competition, by submitting American railways doing business in Canada to the same requirements that apply to Canadian railways that want to ship Canadian system goods that come from the United States.
Mr. Serge Cantin, general counsel for Canadian National Railway, added that, under the previous system, the competitive connection rate, previously known as the competitive line rate, or CLR, had never been used by a Canadian shipper but only by a U.S. railroad, Burlington Northern, which used it to carry traffic over CP's track and then route it into Burlington Northern's U.S. network.
Given the testimony of how the competitive connection rate would potentially hurt Canadian railways without giving Canadian shippers lower rates, it would have been fair to expect the transport minister to redraft the clause. To my knowledge, the only change that has been made to the former clause 40 is that it is now renumbered as clause 42, but the text and effect are identical.
There are other examples where the new transportation amendment act is actually worse than the old transportation amendment act, despite expert testimony drawing the government's attention to the flaws in the old act. Here we find situations where the government listened to the witnesses at committee and then did precisely the opposite of what was recommended.
For instance, clause 16 of the old bill proposed to regulate the advertising of airline ticket prices. Its stated objective was to combat the sticker shock that happens when a customer sees a low fare advertised but has to pay considerably more when taxes and fees are included. A typical example would be an Ottawa-Vancouver discount fare that is advertised at $398 but costs $534.30 when taxes, fees and charges are included.
To address this situation, clause 16 of the old transportation amendment act would have required any advertisement for an airline ticket that shows the price of the ticket to also show the final price. In our discussion of the old transportation amendment act, we pointed out that the Air Transport Association of Canada had voluntarily agreed to do this before Christmas 2002 and that the sticking point was not the Canadian airline industry but the need to get both Canadian and U.S. carriers to adopt similar advertising strategies for tickets on transborder routes.
As I have observed earlier, roughly two years have passed between the introduction of the old act and the introduction of this new transportation amendment act. In fact, the Air Transport Association of Canada had voluntarily agreed to full price disclosure months before the old act was introduced and ever saw the light of day. Nonetheless, when the new Minister of Transport tabled his new act, he went even further than his predecessor to require a behaviour that the airline industry had already adopted.
Clause 30 of the new bill lets the minister:
--make regulations respecting advertising in all media, including on the Internet, of prices for air services within, or originating in, Canada...requiring a carrier who advertises a price for an area of service to
(a) include in the price all costs to the carrier of providing the service, and
(b) indicate in the advertisement all fees, charges and taxes collected by the carrier....
Not only does the minister want to force airlines to do something they are already doing, but he is trying to regulate the Internet.
Yet in his testimony on May 5, 2003, during the transport committee hearings into the old transportation amendment act, Mr. Warren Everson, who was then the vice-president of policy at the Air Transport Association of Canada, questioned the wisdom of regulating airline advertising. He said:
If tour operators or, say, the United States carriers don't have to abide by this or flout the law, they will be posting prices that are 20% [to] 40% cheaper than those posted in the advertisements in Canada. And if a small carrier in Canada, such as a small charter operation, tells a large tour operator in the United States or a cruise line that this is how they have to do it, that this is how the advertising has to be, it leaves no leverage whatsoever. If he insists on it and they don't care to comply, he'll simply lose the contract. We just don't understand how it's possible for the federal government to assign someone to enforce federal law outside their jurisdiction.
Our conclusion, which will come as no surprise, is that we find this proposed section to be very poorly designed. We find it deceptive as to its intent and likely to cause significant difficulties for the airlines, and we ask the committee to strike it from the bill.
He could not have been more clear. He showed the inherent unfairness of the idea, identified difficulties of enforcement and recommended that the idea be rejected.
While it is true that the text has been rewritten substantially in the new transportation amendment act, the intent remains the same and the obvious difficulties of trying to enforce federal regulations on the Internet or in other countries remain true.
The Liberals want the advertised price to include all of those taxes, charges and fees, but we disagree. When we buy a stereo the price does not include the GST and PST and thus the consumer receives the sticker shock when he or she goes to pay. The Liberals opposite used this example to win the 1993 election with a promise to “kill, scrap, abolish” the GST. They recognized the potential electoral rage that sticker shock could provoke.
On this side of the House, we want Canadians to be much better informed about the government's insatiable appetite for taxes. If paying $136.30 in taxes and fees on a $398 airline ticket encourages consumer outrage against a greedy government with a massive $10 billion surplus, we are all for it. In fact, if gas stations advertised gasoline at 75.3¢ a litre and then told motorists that the real price was $1.10 when they paid at the pump, because of taxes, we would see the kind of public outcry that usually marks the impending downfall of a scandal-plagued government.
There are, of course, a few areas where the new transportation amendment act slightly improves the old act. Clause 27 of the former bill required the Minister of Transport to designate the Air Travel Complaints Commissioner to hold office for not more than two consecutive one year terms. Clause 28 of the bill deletes the position. Transport Canada explains the change in policy as follows:
[The] position of the Air Travel Complaints Commissioner was established as a temporary measure in 2000, following the acquisition by Air Canada of Canadian Airlines, to address potential consumer abuses regarding the quality of service during the transition period. Since then, the market has changed substantially. Air Canada is no longer the single dominant carrier and no longer the main target of complaints, reflecting the fact that there is competition on most major routes in Canada.
Clause 28 of the new bill is perhaps the only concrete example of where the minister has witnessed the evolution of the transport sector over the past two years and updated his legislation to reflect that evolution. Had he truly updated the bill in light of the progress of the last two years and the testimony of witnesses during the committee hearings into the old bill, he could have given the transport committee a bill worthy of serious and full consideration.
Finally, I must turn my attention to part 3 of Bill C-44. In clause 74, the Liberal government proposes to take the private corporation known as VIA Rail Inc. and make it into a crown corporation. The clause is identical to clause 67 of the old Bill C-26. Curiously, when the transport minister's office contacted us before the tabling of Bill C-44, we informed it that in the interest of having a proper discussion of the bill's merits, the clause dealing with VIA Rail should not be included but rather should be introduced later as a separate bill.
That has not been done and I am aware of members of various parties who are calling for it. The fact that the minister, in a minority government, would ignore such a basic request from people from all parties, knowing that members of his own caucus support this position, clearly puzzles me and the House. In any event, my party is 100% opposed to part 3 of Bill C-44 and on this ground alone we will be opposing Bill C-44.
When the Liberal government appointed the Canadian transportation act review panel and it tabled its report, “Vision and Balance” in June 2001, it made two recommendations about VIA Rail.
In recommendation 11.5, the panel recommended “a full cost recovery policy for Quebec City-Windsor corridor rail and its commercialization. As a first step, corridor operations as a whole should be separated organizationally from VIA Rail's other services” and management should be changed. Recommendation 11.6 made a second recommendation regarding VIA Rail and corridor services for commercial purposes having “the freedom required to become and remain self-sufficient”.
Part 3 of Bill C-44 ignores those recommendations, just as the minister has ignored the witnesses and the transport committee itself. Because he has ignored all of this and the information that has been prepared for him and for his department on Bill C-44, I urge members of the transport committee to ignore the bill if and when the House shows the judgment of sending it to them.
The bill should be divided and put into its proper context. There should be more thoughtful and thorough debate and the transport minister should do his homework before putting an omnibus bill before a Parliament that is about to die and show a little bit more respect for the transportation industry.
Transportation Amendment Act
November 28th, 2005 / 12:55 p.m.
Caroline St-Hilaire Longueuil, QC
Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague who just spoke. We sat together on the Standing Committee on Transport, and I had the opportunity to get to know this gentleman who is dedicated to transportation services in Canada. I want to pay tribute to him, congratulate him and wish him good luck in the next chapter of his life.
I am pleased to take part in the debate on Bill C-44 to amend the Canada Transportation Act.
First, I want to take this opportunity to say how very disappointed I am that the federal government took eight long months before re-introducing this bill in the House. We have been waiting for over eight months, in fact, to debate this bill, the importance of which the Minister of Transport has acknowledged from the start. However, he waited until the very last day, a few hours before the government is set to lose a non-confidence vote, before re-introducing this bill, which is extremely important to Quebeckers and all Canadians.
The same goes for the aerospace policy and sending a formal notice to CN to sort out the Quebec Bridge problem. He waited until a few hours before the government loses a non-confidence motion.
Today, we are entitled to ask this Minister of Transport what are his interests and what is his motive? Since an election is imminent, the chances of this bill receiving rapid consideration are quite slim. It is quite outrageous that this bill, like its predecessor, Bill C-26, will die on the order paper a second time.
Once again, the entire process will have to start all over, and this will have serious repercussions on a number of transportation sectors and a number of communities. If the minister truly had this bill at heart, he would have introduced it well before today.
I would like to re-examine certain aspects of Bill C-44 which strike me as particularly worthy of mention. We are, of course, in favour of the principle of this bill, particularly since I personally wrote the Minister of Transport in November 2004 asking him to reintroduce this bill promptly. Had time allowed, however, we would have certainly proposed some amendments, because the Minister of Transport, like all his colleagues, does not tend to pay that much attention to the opposition, even if its recommendations are good ones.
Generally speaking, Bill C-44 addresses major transportation issues. Among its main points: increased efficiency in air and rail sectors, and enhanced processes for complaints and consumer protection. There is even some reference made to the concept of environmental protection.
There are three measures among the legislative provisions proposed in this bill that particularly attract my attention. They deal with air and rail sectors and concern airline advertising, noise relating to rail operations, and discontinuance of rail operations.
I feel that consumer protection is absolutely vital, and that the increase in open competition so much desired by the Minister of Transport must not in any way penalize the consumer, who is entitled to greater transparency.
In this connection, Bill C-44 will amend part II of the Transportation Act in relation to complaints processes, the advertising of prices for air services and the disclosure of terms and conditions of carriage.These new measures will provide for greater control over the sale of airline tickets, among other things by giving the agency jurisdiction over ticket sales advertising.
Licensees must in future display, in a prominent place at their business offices, a sign indicating that the rates for the service offered, including the terms and conditions of carriage, are available for inspection. This also applies to any services available on their Internet site. I should remind hon. members that consumer habits have changed a great deal with the advent of the Internet. I feel it is important to extend this obligation to Internet sites because a high percentage of services are now purchased in this way.
So the terms and conditions of carriage must be made available for inspection.
The Canadian Transportation Agency gets a new regulatory power allowing it to require through regulations that the prices for air services mentioned in any advertisement indicate the fees, duties and taxes being charged on behalf of others, so that the consumer is easily able to determine how much the service will cost.
Although this is a step in the right direction, we must ensure that the agency uses this power in the best interest of consumers and does so in a rigorous and proactive manner. Consumer groups have been calling for more transparent rates for a long time now. These new transparency measures will be as good for consumers as for the airlines, which will be able to engage in healthier competition.
Airline advertisements have often been publicly criticized. Last February, Option consommateurs, a Quebec-based consumer group, looked at over 20 ads published by three airlines including Air Canada, WestJet and CanJet. The conclusion was surprising, not to say scandalous. This type of advertising could be described as misrepresentation. The difference between the advertised rate and the true cost of the ticket was as high as 91%. The problem is with all the other fees added later including navigation fees, the air travellers security charge and so forth.
Another equally misleading practice is offering a good rate. Often that good rate is for a one way ticket. We know full well that in most cases people flying to their destination also have to come back. This is misleading and unacceptable. Airlines looking to build their clientele find it more useful to announce the lowest cost rather than the total including all the fees. Unfortunately, the consumer is duped into believing that he got a good deal.
There is another item I would like to address and that is the Air Travel Complaints Commissioner position, which was cut in the last budget by the Minister of Finance. In the same breath he announced that the Canadian Transportation Agency would be assuming responsibility for the complaints program. Bill C-44 no longer provides for the commissioner's position and incorporates those duties into the regular operations of the agency. In this specific case, there are pros and cons. On one hand it is good that the agency can require the transporter to compensate those affected by the non-application of the terms and conditions of carriage. This a step forward since the complaints commissioner could only make suggestions at the time.
There are, however, a few shortcomings. The Canadian Transportation Agency is no longer required to submit an annual report on complaints and their resolution. This report highlighted errors and shortcomings. The commissioner could also require the carriers to provide considerable information during the complaint process. The agency can longer do so. I find the weakening of the role of the transportation agency most regrettable. It loses some of its investigative powers and part of its visibility.
Last week, I met the Travellers Protection Initiative. This organization considers the measures put forward in the bill inadequate and too weak to protect airline passengers. It advocates strengthening the bill's provisions. Certainly no one has forgotten the Jetsgo saga of last March, as hundreds of travellers were left stranded when the airline abruptly ceased operations at the peak of the holiday period. Such a situation must never occur again. I spoke out against it at the time.
The Bloc Québécois clearly feels that the government must assume its responsibilities. It could, for example, propose a compensation fund be established to reimburse the cost of tickets when consumers purchase them directly from the airline, as is increasingly the case.
Clearly, there is work to be done on the bill in a number of respects.
In addition to the legislative amendments with respect to the airline sector, another very important aspect of Bill C-44 concerns rail transportation.
The aim of the proposed measures is to amend Part III of the Canada Transportation Act, creating a mechanism for dealing with complaints about noise and amending provisions dealing with the transfer and discontinuance of the operation of railway lines.
The Bloc has, for many years, been calling for legislative amendments to resolve the serious problems of noise faced by many communities. I refer to the harmful effects of noise from the construction or operation of the railway, including the movement of cars in marshalling yards.
In recent years, the public and the railways have often been at loggerheads. The public bothered by noise has no recourse but to complain directly to the railway concerned or initiate civil proceedings. No federal agency is currently empowered to intervene in such instances.
Hence the importance of legislation in this regard so that the railways feel some pressure and take the initiative to limit the disturbances caused by railway construction or operation.
I would remind the Minister of Transport that this is also a problem in his own back yard, because a class action against Canadian Pacific has just been authorized. A group of citizens in the Outremont area can no longer stand the disturbances caused by the CP switching yard. The court found that it was important to decide whether CP is imposing excessive inconvenience on its immediate neighbours in connection with its activities. It would, in my opinion, be simpler, and certainly far less costly, to settle this problem before the Canadian Transportation Agency.
These legislative amendments are a step in the right direction, but I have some amendments to propose, or rather ones I would have liked to propose. However, given the lax attitude of the Minister of Transport, who waited until the last minute to introduce this bill, I imagine we will be coming back to it in another session. Then we will have some amendments to propose in order to clarify the terminology on the rail companies' obligations.
I will try to ensure that the agency's jurisdiction will not be just over noise, but also over emissions or vibrations from rail cars. Now we are in the Kyoto protocol era, environmental issues are extremely important.
I know that rail transport is an excellent alternative to road transport and is key to economic development in Quebec. However, there must be a balance between such economic objectives and the environment, particularly in terms of respecting the public's quality of life and well-being.
The powers granted to the Canadian Transportation Agency are in no way prejudicial to the railway companies, particularly since the agency will now have the power to issue and publish guidelines, after consulting with interested parties, and to propose a mechanism for the collaborative resolution of noise complaints. Consequently, each party will know the other's limits. The purpose of this is to resolve such conflicts peacefully and without delay.
I am pleased to see that urban transit authorities will now be recognized. A section has been added under which a railway company wishing to sell a railway line shall first offer it to the municipal governments and urban transit authorities concerned. These new provisions are desirable and will provide better protection for the unique transportation network provided by urban railway corridors. I have always considered rail transport to be an excellent alternative to road transport. Such measures, therefore, should be encouraged.
Although we support Bill C-44 in principle, we are extremely disappointed. This is proof of the lax attitude of the Minister of Transport, who has done nothing to bring forward this bill or ensure that it becomes law.
Transportation Amendment Act
November 28th, 2005 / 12:20 p.m.
Jim Gouk Southern Interior, BC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to start my speech by sending a special message to someone very special. I spoke in the House last week and made a member's statement. I thought that would be the final time I would address the House. It turns out that much to my surprise the government has brought forward one of the more useless bills it has on the order paper. It talked about bringing this forward a number of times. I do not know if common sense prevailed or what, but it never did. Now suddenly on the final day of the government, we find ourselves with Bill C-44.
I am pleased to hear the parliamentary secretary to the minister say that he would concentrate mainly on air transportation. That is the part I would like to speak to as well.
Other bills could have been brought forward. I heard one mentioned. One of the questions the parliamentary secretary received from a member of his party caused him to raise Bill C-68, the Pacific gateway bill. That is a prime example of a bill that should have come forward, along with several other bills in the House. The government introduced it a long time ago. We indicated very clearly to the government that we would support that bill. For some reason it chose not to bring it forward. It is probably so the Liberals can campaign in British Columbia and say that it offered the bill and the Conservative Party caused it to be defeated.
We did nothing of a kind. The Liberals had more than ample time to bring it forward. They never did, and instead we find ourselves discussing Bill C-44.
Let us talk about the genesis of the bill. When the new Minister of Transport came forward in Parliament, one of the things he said to our committee and to me personally, as the vice-chair of the committee, was he would reintroduce Bill C-26. Bill C-26 was the predecessor of Bill C-44. He did not say that he would take the intent of Bill C-26, redesign it and try to respond to the needs that had come up with all the problems in Bill C-26.
That was one of the dumber things I have heard him say. I have some measure of respect for the minister, and I temper that with the word “some” very strongly. However, bringing Bill C-26 forward and reintroducing it definitely has to go down as one of his more foolish moves. Bill C-26 was so bad that with a Liberal majority government it could not get the Liberals to vote for it. Why on earth would the government want to bring it forward in a minority?
Let us talk about some of the things that are wrong with the bill. As the parliamentary secretary addressed primarily the air industry, I will do the same, although I would be remiss if I did not put a few words in at the end of my speech on my old arch concerns about VIA Rail.
First, I would like to talk about airport rent. The parliamentary secretary to the minister said that the government wanted to help the air industry, that it recognized how important air transportation was. Those are funny words coming from a party that has done everything it can to destroy the air industry in the country.
Members of the Standing Committee on Transport have studied this both in Ottawa and across the country. We have listened to witnesses from every aspect and every sector of the air transportation industry. We made a series of recommendations by way of an interim report. One of the first recommendations was that the government immediately reduce airport rents by at least 75%. The government responded to that. It said that it already had taken care of this and that it would bring in a 60% reduction in the rent paid by the national airports over the term of their leases.
As my colleague said in questions and comments, after the parliamentary secretary spoke, that is not a rent reduction. That is a 60% reduction in the amount the government will increase it by in the future.
I have said that when I retire I will practise the three g s, namely garden, golf and grandson. My grandson is a year old. If he should happen to grow up, get into the air transport industry and even become the CEO of one of the airport authorities, then perhaps he may have something to be thankful for the government bringing in the 60% future reductions. That is provided the air transport sector survives under Liberal policy. We need rent reductions now.
Toronto airport was spoken very strongly about, and I would like to address a couple of the comments the minister has made in the past with regard to it. Many people have been crying loud and clear for reductions in the rent at Toronto airport in particular because of it having the highest landing fees in the world. The minister's response to that was twofold.
First, he said that if we did not like the fees there and if we did not like landing at Toronto airport, we could always land in Montreal. It is an interesting thing for the minister from Montreal to say. Maybe it will garner him a few votes there, except I hope the people in Montreal have the good sense, and I am sure they do, to recognize that if he is that out to lunch in terms of airport rents in Toronto, it will eventually affect them as well.
The second thing he said was that the rents were not all that big a deal, that they were only 14% of the budget of Toronto airport and that its debt load was 40%. Therefore, it is not the rent, it is the debt. Let us talk about that debt. Let us talk about why airports have debt and have spent a ton of money.
In Ottawa the terminal building that the airport authority took over was deplorable, as it was in Toronto and several other airports around the country. It financed $335 million to build the new terminal that was long overdue. It did not cost the government or taxpayers a dime. The reason it was needed was the government of the day and governments in the past ignored the infrastructure needs of our airport system.
Airports used to lose for the government over $200 million a year. That was while the government was not putting any money into it. That was just its operating cost, a $200 million loss. Now all of a sudden it is saying that they have to have fair value. If it cost $200 million to run them and they were run for free, they have received fair value.
Over and above that, by the parliamentary secretary's own words, $6 billion has been spent at the Toronto airport to build up the infrastructure that the government neglected. In fact, in the case of Toronto it was even worse. The Liberal government cancelled the newly signed Pearson contract that would have built a new terminal at no cost to the taxpayers whatsoever. It established, through legislation, that the contract holder would not be allowed to sue the government, and decreed how much it would get for damages by way of a settlement.
I listened to the Liberal rhetoric. I was green, I was new. I thought that if the government was saying it, it had to be true. I was shocked that it was going to give the airports as much money as it did. As the new transport critic, a member of Parliament and a member of the Standing Committee on Transport, I decided I would hit the books and study this so I could come up with arguments as to why they should not even get that much money, having done all the bad things the Liberals said they did.
Surprisingly, the more I studied this, the more I discovered it was not such a bad deal at all. In fact, it was a pretty good deal. It was such a good deal that I found a memo from the department asking how on earth the it manage to get such a great contract. The department could not believe it got such a good contract on the department's behalf, and that is what the government cancelled.
Pearson has languished ever since. As part of the settlement that it finally was forced to make, it ended up buying terminal 3 back from private sector operators. That is where a lot of this debt has come from, all generated by the government.
The government did another thing, which was done by the minister's predecessor, David Collenette. This is one example of the really stupid things that has been done in the name of helping airports. Mr. Collenette said that there were a lot of problems, that the government was really soaking them with the rent, that he knew it was a problem, especially with the sudden downturn in traffic, so what the government would do was not cut the rent but defer it. They would still have to pay it, but the government would allow them not to pay it for a little while. That did absolutely no good because they had to put the money aside and save it for the day when the government said it had to be paid.
If the government wants to do something short term right away, it should cancel the payment of those deferrals. It was something that was supposedly going to help, at least the members opposite certainly crowed about it, and yet it does not do any good.
Another thing that needs to be brought up is ACAP. One of our recommendations was there should be a flow through of moneys received from airports. We heard a lot of people saying that airport rent should be eliminated. I do not support that. It should be greatly reduced. There should be enough money coming to the ACAP, the airport capital assistance program, for smaller airports that are the feeders for these national airports. We put forward that ACAP should be increased and stabilized. Right now there is no guarantee that it will even continue, and it has not increased. The government said that it was adequately funded. That is a lot of nonsense. The ACAP has not increased since it started. With the cost of everything going up, simply not increasing it means there is less money available for the various projects.
Another thing we asked was that the government simplify the application process. We talked to operators of the smaller airports who told us that it cost as much as $10,000 to apply for ACAP funding. In the grand scheme of things, I know the former prime minister, Jean Chrétien, once said in the House, “what's a million?” A million dollars to the Liberal Party, with all the things it has done with taxpayer money, perhaps is not a tremendous amount of money. However, $10,000 for a little airport with a small budget is a lot of money, and that is only to apply for funding that it may not get. It is a long, drawn out process and it is absolutely unnecessary and unacceptable.
However, the government says that it is all right because they can add the cost of the application to the cost of the project and apply for the whole thing. First, they have to put the money up. Second, they have no guarantee that they will get that funding. The government could do a lot better that it has in this area.
We also asked that no rent should be paid on airports with less than two million passengers. There has to be some base from when they can then generate enough money to run their airports and then start to pay the rent. The government's response to that is it believes that airports with less than 2,000 passengers not paying rent would not satisfy the government's real property policy that states, “Where public assets are leased to private or commercial entities, the government should receive a fair return”.
We already have talked about fair return. Vancouver airport has undertaken a tremendous terminal expansion. It has built a second runway. It is continuing to expand its operation tremendously. It is known as one of the world authorities on the operation of an airport. What has it cost the government? What gas it cost taxpayers? Not one dime, but the government continues to use it as a cash cow to skim money from it.
Another of the recommendations was the government eliminate the air transport security fee and pay for the services through the consolidated revenues fund. The government says that the enhanced air travel security systems benefit principally and directly air travellers. In these circumstances the charge is fair and reasonable.
We have to ask ourselves what exactly is air security for? Is it for the security of the passengers or is this enhanced security that came as a direct result of 9/11 for the protection of the public at large against acts of terrorism?
The overwhelming damage and death toll in the case of 9/11 was not to the aircraft or the passengers on board, catastrophic though those events were. The damage and the largest loss of life was in the buildings. Therefore, we are doing this for the general safety of the public, and nowhere else in security does the general public not pay these security fees. They do not load this on any other sector. The government seems to think that there is so much money in the air transport sector that it can apply whatever charges it wants at any time at all.
Another thing we asked for was that customs services be provided at airports that can demonstrate they have regular transporter or international services. The government's response to that is charging fees for services has been the government's policy, dating back to 1989, and that it will have to continue with that. That is not true either. That is a very inconsistent statement because we do not charge any one sector. We do not charge the people who benefit when they cross the border. If that were the case, why are all the people who do not cross the border paying for those customs services at the border? The Liberals could charge a fee for everybody who comes across, if that is what they truly believe. Therefore, their policy is extremely inconsistent.
I want to get on to my favourite topic, VIA Rail, because this goes back right to my first days in Parliament and some of the things I found out about VIA.
I have a measure of respect for VIA and the service it provides, particularly in the Quebec-Windsor corridor. It is a necessary service. Essentially, it is an extension of commuter rail.
There are basically three types of service provided by railroad for passengers. One is commuter rail, in which I will include the Quebec-Windsor corridor and intercity transportation, but it is still essentially commuter rail and travel in a high density corridor. I think that it is quite justifiable to move people, to keep them off the highways, and to provide better access to travel. It is in a very restricted area.
We have it in Vancouver, not run by VIA Rail. We have a very good commuter service there. We have one in Toronto and we have one in Montreal. Then we have VIA Rail providing this intercity connection as well in the corridor.
We have remote communities. It is appropriate for the government to take a role in ensuring that remote communities are captured by way of differing types of transportation and have some service provided to them and ensure that service is maintained. The third thing is rail tourism. Rail tourism is for tourists getting a tourism experience.
We do not have passenger rail outside of those three items I mentioned. There is no such thing as regular passenger rail. For example, VIA Rail runs from Edmonton to Vancouver. Aircraft fly from Edmonton to Vancouver and the Greyhound bus goes from Edmonton to Vancouver. Only one of those three is subsidized, and that is VIA Rail. Even though it is subsidized, VIA Rail is the most expensive of those three methods of travel. It takes 17 times longer to go by VIA Rail than it does to go by aircraft. Obviously, people are not riding it simply for the transportation. They have to pay more and it takes infinitely longer to get there. The only reason they are on that train is for the rail experience, in other words, rail tourism, so why are we asking the taxpayers of Canada to subsidize tourism experiences?
We have a private sector company in British Columbia and Alberta that provides that amply well. It bought the service from VIA Rail. Travelling on the southern route and as well through to Jasper, VIA Rail used to carry about 5,000 passengers a year and lose money. The private sector company that took it over, and invested millions and millions of dollars in advertising, has won awards all over the world. It just recently won a very prestigious award by the International Tourism Association as one of the best rail experiences in the world. It carries over 80,000 passengers. Yet, we still have VIA Rail wanting to go back and compete with them and the government is looking at supporting VIA Rail on that. It is absolutely unacceptable.
VIA Rail only pays one-fifth of the trackage fees to CN and CP that companies like the Rocky Mountaineer have to pay because the government negotiated that and forced that on the freight rails. That is one-fifth, so they are getting that over and above the $500,000 a day in taxpayer subsidies.
I think the government is being very unfair to VIA Rail. VIA Rail should be allowed to operate commercially within the corridor, do a good job, and probably get a lot of kudos for doing so. I think it is absolutely wrong to subsidize a government operation to compete against the private sector.
I would like to go on about this and many other sectors and talk a lot more about VIA Rail as well, but I will end by saying, first, that I am very disappointed that the government chose to bring such an inappropriate bill forward when there are so many things that needed to be brought forward that we would have helped to pass had it done so. The Liberals have had the opportunity. We even gave them the opportunity to extend the Parliament to get those things through, if necessary, and they have turned it all down, perhaps so they can make a bunch of false campaign statements when they get out there.
The other thing I would like to say is that this will definitely be the last time that I will rise in the House as a member of Parliament. The government's life will end tonight and everyone will go on the campaign trail. I will not be returning. Perhaps some others, particularly on the other side, will not be returning either, but they think they are returning. I know I am not returning.
This is my last time, Mr. Speaker. To you and to the House, and to all members of the House in all parties, thank you for the experience. I have enjoyed it, these bills notwithstanding, because I know that good work can be done as well. Good work was certainly been done in the committee. That is what I was talking about today. We would have a better government if it would listen to and follow the reports of committees like the transport committee instead of coming up with bills like this.
November 3rd, 2005 / 4:05 p.m.
I have the honour to inform the House that when the House went up to the Senate chamber the Deputy Governor General was pleased to give, in Her Majesty's name, the royal assent to the following bills:
Bill S-31, An Act to authorize the construction and maintenance of a bridge over the St. Lawrence River and a bridge over the Beauharnois Canal for the purpose of completing Highway 301 — Chapter 37.
Bill C-26, An Act to establish the Canada Border Services Agency — Chapter 38.
Bill S-38, An Act respecting the implementation of international trade commitments by Canada regarding spirit drinks of foreign countries — Chapter 39.
Air Canada Public Participation Act
November 3rd, 2005 / 11:35 a.m.
James Moore Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, BC
Madam Speaker, I am happy to speak on behalf of the official opposition in support of Bill C-47, an act to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act.
Basically Bill C-47 is an administrative response to the restructuring of Air Canada that took place last year. In that restructuring, Air Canada, a former crown corporation, became a subsidiary of ACE Aviation Holdings Inc.
Bill C-47 requires that the provisions of the Air Canada Public Participation Act in respect of the Official Languages Act and the location of Air Canada's head office in Montreal be applied also to ACE Aviation Holdings Inc.
Air Canada has never given any indication that it intends to abandon Montreal and a few months ago, the company signed a long-term lease in that city.
Air Canada, furthermore, views its language proficiency as a competitive advantage. Like Air Transat, Air Canada is a private sector airline with its head office in Montreal, its hub in Toronto and employees who strive to speak both of our official languages correctly.
Air Canada is committed to using both of Canada's official languages. It is also committed to remaining in Montreal.
The Conservative Party caucus is in favour of this bill because its spirit flows directly from subsection 91(i) of the Conservative Party of Canada Policy Declaration, which reads as follows:
A Conservative Government will support the Official Languages Act ensuring that English and French have equality of status and equal rights and privileges—
If English and French truly have equality of status and equal rights and privileges, these obligations must apply to the leading national air carrier, especially since it is the only one to offer service to many international destinations.
Finally, Bill C-47 is largely a housekeeping bill, its spirit flows from the Conservative Party of Canada Policy Declaration, and Air Canada is not opposed to it.
We will accordingly support Bill C-47.
This having been said, I wonder whether Air Canada's government relations department continues its enthusiastic support of the Liberal government.
Senator David Angus, a former Air Canada board member, has informed me that legislation such as the present bill would subject Air Canada to a much higher level of official languages compliance than what is required of Air Transat. He informed me that the difference between Air Transat's version of bilingualism and Air Canada's compliance with the Official Languages Act costs Air Canada some $11 million a year. Clearly, this issue falls within the expertise of the official languages committee, not the transport committee. It would be my recommendation that Bill C-47 be referred to that committee instead of the transport committee.
At the same time, given that virtually every current and former member of Air Canada's government relations team--let me repeat that every current and former member of Air Canada's government relations team--virtually every single one of them has worked either for a Liberal MP or for the Liberal Party during the last election. I can only assume that Robert Milton and Montie Brewer and Air Canada's senior management support Bill C-47.
As transport critic for the official opposition and a very frequent Air Canada passenger, I have official and unofficial contact with Air Canada at many different levels and I can say that its support of the Liberal government is truly bizarre.
Even as recently as October 31, Liberal Senator Percy Downe called on the Senate to examine current government imposed operating requirements on Air Canada. In particular, he is concerned that Air Canada serves Charlottetown from Montreal instead of Toronto. He told the press:
My inquiry will examine the current, government-imposed operating requirements on Air Canada and the responsibility and opportunity for the Government of Canada to impose additional conditions on Air Canada so all Canadians can enjoy reasonably comparable levels of air service at reasonably comparable levels of cost, no matter where they live.
His statement ignores the fact that Air Canada's Charlottetown service now flies from Montreal in accordance with the transport minister's advice that airlines concerned about high rent at Pearson airport move flights to Montreal. He also ignores the fact that WestJet now offers Toronto-Charlottetown non-stop service with much bigger planes than Air Canada offers.
Nonetheless, the Liberal senator argues, “It is entirely within the power of the federal government to impose service and operating conditions on Air Canada”. In fact, such is the Liberal Party's fascination with regulating Air Canada that in the past three years the airline has been mentioned by name in four separate government initiated bills, Bill C-38, Bill C-26, Bill C-44 and Bill C-47. The company has been mentioned by name in the House some 360 times since the 2000 election.
Based on statements made in the House by Liberal and NDP MPs, they want to tell Air Canada what planes to buy, where to maintain them, where to fly them, what ticket prices to charge, how to advertise and how to manage their businesses. Perhaps MPs with these concerns should go ahead and buy Air Canada stock. Personally, given that Air Canada is a private company, I believe that these decisions are best made by Air Canada management. As a result, I believe that Air Canada probably wants as little government attention as possible.
For example, in June 2003 after Air Canada's first Montreal-Beirut flight had taken off, the government cancelled Air Canada's permission to fly the route. Air Canada had promoted the route for several months and informed the government that the national airlines of France, Germany, Holland, Italy and the U.K. were all serving Beirut. Nonetheless, at the last minute the Liberal government cancelled the route, citing security concerns.
A similar situation happened this past July. The federal government had given Air Canada permission to operate Toronto-Calgary-Shanghai freighter service. At the time Air Canada did not have a suitable aircraft so it leased one from California based World Airways. Here it was following the lead of Canada's military, which leases Russian cargo planes to fly our troops and supplies overseas.
A couple of days before the first flight was to depart, Ajay K. Virmani, whose company Starjet flew the Prime Minister during the last election, complained. He said that Air Canada would compete unfairly against him on the Toronto-Calgary portion of that flight. The Minister of Transport ignored the fact that Air Canada is allowed to fly any size plane it wants on any route within Canada and agreed instead with the Prime Minister's friend. Air Canada was forced to cancel the Calgary stop on its flight to Shanghai as a result.
The cancellation of the Calgary stop on the Toronto-Shanghai service had negative financial consequences for Air Canada in the same way that the company was hurt by the previous decision to cancel the Montreal-Beirut service at the last minute.
However, when the Liberals do not directly target Air Canada, their ill-conceived policies can cost the airline significant amounts of money. For example, Air Canada's major hub is Toronto's Lester B. Pearson International Airport. Air Canada and its affiliate Jazz operate up to 660 daily flights and departures at Pearson airport, serving more than 100 destinations, representing approximately 35% of Air Canada's total operations.
From Pearson, Air Canada flies non-stop to three other continents, Asia, Europe and South America. In this respect, Air Canada's operations at Pearson compete directly against United's hub at Chicago O'Hare, Delta's hub at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson and those of Northwest Airlines at the Detroit Metro Airport.
When it comes to Air Canada's Toronto operations, the current Minister of Transport is Air Canada's arch-enemy. He is well aware that federal airport rents and charges together with federal agencies that use free space at Pearson have helped to make Pearson airport the most expensive airport in the world. However, he does not care. He thinks that airlines that are concerned about high rents and taxes at Pearson should fly instead to Montreal.
The transport minister wants us to believe that he has Air Canada's best interests at heart. However, on May 9 when he introduced a package to cut airport rents nationwide, he offered average savings of 52% to Canada's larger airports while only offering 6% to Pearson. This unfairness was underlined by the fact that while other airports faced an immediate rent reduction, Toronto's rent actually increased this year due to a requirement to repay the deferred costs of the SARS crisis of 2003.
Compounding the problem is the fact that when Delta sells a Peruvian customer a Lima-Frankfurt ticket, the routing goes via Delta's hub in Atlanta, which has one of the lowest landing fees of any major U.S. airport. If Air Canada sells the same passenger a Lima-Frankfurt ticket, the routing passes through the world's most expensive airport, Toronto Pearson.
Both Toronto Pearson and Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson are large well-run airports. However, this year Pearson will pay a staggering $144 million to Ottawa as a result of the transport minister's airport rent, airport taxes policy. On the other hand, Atlanta receives airport support of up to $47 million a year in grants from the U.S. government. The difference has a huge impact on landing fees, taxes and passenger traffic.
As Air Canada and Delta compete for the business of the Lima-Frankfurt traveller, both airlines have similar aircraft and similar costs. However, because of the difference in airport taxes, Air Canada either has to charge more to cover Toronto's high landing fees or make less profit in order to match Delta's price.
By continuing to ignore this situation, the Minister of Transport is delivering a slap in the face to Air Canada's 12,000 Toronto based employees and telling them, “You have to work harder for less so that Air Canada can pay my taxes and compete with foreign carriers”. Unfortunately, although the minister has been made aware of this problem several times, he has chosen to turn a deaf ear.
At transport committee on October 27, one week ago today, in response to yet another call for rent relief at Pearson airport, the minister said, “I have never met a normal person who has talked to me about airport rent unless they have a vested interest”.
I can tell this House that my office is aware of the following vested interests who have called for urgent rent relief in order to let Air Canada compete on a level playing field with its international competitors. They include: the Air Transport Association of Canada; the International Air Transport Association; the Association of Airline Representatives in Canada; the Canadian Airports Council; the Canadian Courier & Messenger Association; the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies; the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association; the Greater Toronto Hotel Association; and the Tourism Industry Association of Canada.
However, seven significant non-vested interests have joined the call for rent relief as well. They include: the City of Toronto, including council and Liberal Mayor David Miller; the City of Toronto Economic Development Committee; the City of Brampton, Mayor Fennell; the Province of Ontario, including Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty; the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport; the Canadian Chamber of Commerce; the Toronto Board of Trade; the Brampton Board of Trade.
It appears there is no way at all to wake up the transport minister or to convince him to move forward to cut Toronto's rent. I want Canadians to understand that no one should be able to claim to be our national transportation minister while undermining the ability of a major Canadian international airline to compete against foreign carriers.
Let me be clear to this House and to all Canadians, a Conservative government would quickly deal with the tremendous unfairness and the oppressive rents that the federal Liberals are charging Air Canada's Toronto hub.
If Bill C-47 is the transport minister's idea of legislation to assist Air Canada, let me paint a very different picture.
A Conservative government would negotiate an open skies agreement with the United States with a view to promoting increased economic opportunities for Canadian air carriers. One way to do this would be for Canada and the U.S. to grant modified sixth freedom rights to each other's countries.
Modified sixth freedom is a way of describing the situation where a Vancouver passenger buys a Vancouver-Minneapolis round trip ticket on Northwest and a round trip Minneapolis-Montreal ticket also on Northwest and combines both tickets to fly Vancouver-Minneapolis-Montreal round trip.
The granting of sixth freedom rights is attractive because they do not require airlines to offer a single new flight, but offers them increasing flexibility to sell seats on any flights that they offer. For Air Canada, modified sixth freedoms would offer increased revenue opportunities in particular at its Toronto hub.
Like many major Canadian airports, Pearson has Canadian customs facilities as well as U.S. preclearance facilities. Typically, U.S. bound Canadians preclear U.S. customs before departure in Canada, but clear Canadian customs after they return to Canada. Often Canadian and American customs and immigration facilities are actually located side by side in the same airport. This operating reality means it would be theoretically possible for an airline passenger arriving in Toronto from Los Angeles to stay in the U.S. precleared in transit zone and board a connecting flight to New York on Air Canada without ever having to step foot on Canadian soil legally.
Given that Air Canada offers non-stop daily flights to 41 U.S. cities from Toronto, as compared to the 60 U.S. cities served by US Airways from Pittsburgh, granting Air Canada modified sixth freedom rights would allow it to make Toronto a mid-size U.S. hub almost immediately and with virtually no additional cost.
Given that the revenue calculations of Air Canada's 41 Toronto U.S. routes are based on transborder and U.S. international traffic, the income from exploiting its potential modified sixth freedom rights would go straight to the bottom line.
Further, given Toronto's geographic location and the impressive number of U.S. destinations that Air Canada serves from it, the potential economic benefit to Air Canada of modified sixth freedoms is quite significant.
Research was done last May by Professor Richard Janda and students Shy Kurtz and David Dubrovsky of McGill University Institute of Air and Space Law. They argue that for the top 15 U.S. domestic pairs, a routing via Toronto would be competitive with a routing via most U.S. domestic hubs. In other words, as a U.S. hub, Toronto would be competitive with Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis and Pittsburgh.
All that is required for this to happen and to move forward is a forward thinking negotiation and a dramatic reduction in airport rents that the Liberal government currently charges at Pearson airport. The Liberals prefer to see Pearson airport instead as a major cash cow to be exploited, while they take Toronto voters for granted. The Conservatives see Pearson as an engine for economic growth to be nurtured and built upon.
Bill C-47 would require Air Canada to offer bilingual service on all of its flights around the world. Air Canada management willingly embraces this initiative and sees its ability to serve customers in various languages as a competitive advantage, yet another way to lure international travellers to fly Air Canada. This is a positive thing. We have no problem with this as Conservatives. We embrace official bilingualism.
The global airline industry is intensely competitive. The impact of government policy on the major airports that airlines use as hubs cannot be understated. The fact that Amsterdam is served by flights from countries in South America that are not also served from Toronto is symbolic of the problem. Dutch government backed Schiphol airport in Amsterdam has some of the lowest fees in the world, while Toronto has the world's most expensive. This reality and aggressive marketing allowed KLM to profitably serve from Amsterdam destinations which are not flyable from Toronto due to government costs.
Through visionary thinking the Dutch government has positioned Amsterdam's Schiphol airport as a truly global gateway and a major engine for economic growth for its country. For example, the greater Toronto area has three times the population of greater Amsterdam, yet Amsterdam's Schiphol airport is significantly bigger than Pearson and handles nearly 50% more passengers. Amsterdam's airport has flights to 251 destinations, over 100 of which are outside of Europe. Pearson on the other hand has flights to 110 destinations, only 42 of which are outside of Canada and the United States.
I understand that the size of an airport and the number of flights it receives are dependent on a number of factors, such as geography, history and the economic development of the area. Nonetheless, forward thinking Dutch aviation policy has allowed Amsterdam to grow into the world's ninth busiest airport. This is particularly impressive when we realize how close it is to London Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulle, and Frankfurt, all of which are among the world's top eight busiest airports.
I would like to suggest that part of the reason Amsterdam's airport is so successful is that the Dutch government has been at the forefront of negotiating open skies agreements with other countries. In addition, the Dutch government sees Amsterdam airport as a major driver of that country's economy and that is reflected in various government policies which support the development of the airport.
This House will soon pass Bill C-47, an act to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act. The Minister of Transport will be happy to see Air Canada providing bilingual service wherever in the world he flies.
In the meantime, this same minister must do everything he can to further the economic opportunities for Air Canada and the other Canadian airlines by enacting the measures proposed in this House. From Air Canada's perspective, the minister may well want to address this issue, but his progress to date has been less than impressive.
Canada Border Services Agency Act
June 13th, 2005 / 4:10 p.m.
Art Hanger Calgary Northeast, AB
Madam Speaker, I know that this member is pretty new to this House. I would like to make a comment and then pose a question to him. The comment will reflect the amount of time that I have spent in the House and certainly, border issues were on the table long before this bill was ever introduced.
In fact, I can reflect back to 1994 and the disbandment of the ports police, a dedicated force that was stationed at every harbour in the country that was of significance. I remember the controversy about the disbandment of that particular organization.
I can also reflect back over the disbandment of the tracker units that were designed strictly to go after illegal entrants, foreign criminals, as they made their way into this country. That unit specialized in tracking people down who were of that ilk. However, the Liberal government of the day chose to disband it.
I would like the member, since he has made a thorough presentation offering support for this particular bill, to tell this House what problems arose in this country after the ports police was disbanded and how Bill C-26 would fix it?
Canada Border Services Agency Act
June 13th, 2005 / 3:40 p.m.
Russ Hiebert South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC
Mr. Speaker, I am grateful to rise and address Bill C-26, an act to establish the Canada Border Services Agency, or CBSA. The House will be aware that our party is supporting this legislation.
However, I want to state that I am unimpressed with the government over the timing of the bill. The administration created the CBSA in December of 2003, more than a year and a half ago and, perhaps even more disturbing, during the last Parliament. Time and again we see the government creating new departments and agencies and spending money before Parliament has authorized those actions.
Liberals demonstrate no respect for this institution. This is nothing more than sheer arrogance on the part of the government. Nevertheless, the bill represents an important step forward in the effort to bring our antiquated system of national security into the 21st century.
Creating a single agency to provide border services and security at ports of entry is a logical and long overdue action. Of course, providing our border services officers with the resources, training and equipment they need to do this job is another matter entirely, and it has become quite clear to me that the government has failed to deliver on this critical aspect of the plan.
Yes, the government has made spending announcements and even provided for such spending in recent budgets, yet the reality is that those resources are not getting to the front lines.
The famous Peace Arch crossing is in my riding of South Surrey--White Rock--Cloverdale. As a border MP representing the riding with western Canada's busiest land crossings, I regularly receive reams of information about border ports that are understaffed, under-equipped and completely unprotected.
That leaves our unarmed border services officers vulnerable. Often, the closest armed police presence is many minutes or even hours away. That is unacceptable. I want to share a story as it has been relayed to me by people at the front lines:
Regarding the currency seizure of $292,125 USD in early April - there is no secure manner in which to count proceeds of crime. Pacific Highway Traffic office is made primarily out of windows. During that currency seizure, as with most, the money was counted in an unsecured room with windows on three sides, looking out into the lanes of traffic and the public areas. During the day the windows are somewhat opaque. At night the windows became completely transparent because the office lights are on. Pedestrians who were walking into Canada were able to observe the goings on of the Inspectors inside the office as well as the counting of almost three hundred thousand dollars, which took about 7 hours. The Mounties attended for about an hour, then left. Management views Proceeds of Crime seizures as commodity seizures plain and simple. They must not understand the “Crime” part of Proceeds of Crime and that we are dealing with a high risk seizure with many individuals having a vested interest in the smuggled cash.
The proof of what I hear is to be found in the constant reports of vehicles speeding through land crossings, with 1,600 last year alone. This is not just a matter of a union complaining for the sake of its workers, although they are certainly right to push for safer conditions. This is about national security. What were those vehicles carrying? Were they carrying narcotics, weapons, contraband cigarettes and liquor, or even fugitives from justice? Who knows?
The Deputy Prime Minister has boasted about the work of the integrated border enforcement teams. That is great, but it is only part of the solution. Those teams can crack down on smuggling at isolated spots on the border, but if we are allowing hundreds of vehicles to simply zip across the border on the highways, unchecked, then are we any further ahead? I think not.
It is now the policy of the CBSA to wave through suspects who are known to be armed and dangerous instead of confronting and arresting those who are a threat to Canada when we have the opportunity to do so. We simply wave them through and hope that the police will catch up to them later in our neighbourhoods. This Liberal policy is so confused that it would be laughable if it were not so dangerous.
The other comment I want to make about national security concerns the gaping hole the Liberals created when they disbanded the ports police in 1994. It is quite clear, from reading criminal intelligence service reports and other reports, that smuggling through Canada's ports is a major problem that remains largely unaddressed, despite a minor police and CBSA presence at many ports. Even if we were to tighten up on the cars and trucks that make land crossings, our national security appears to be something one could still drive a ship through.
In an internal RCMP intelligence assessment, Canadian ports have become a haven for organized crime. According to the report, customs and police feel threatened, while workers are coerced to do crimes. Organized criminal involvement in the smuggling of drugs, humans and counterfeit products at Canada's biggest marine ports is so pervasive that customs officers and police have been intimidated and even independent thieves will not dare to work alone.
The Liberal's newly appointed ambassador to the United States has affirmed what our border officers are saying. He made it clear last weekend that our borders were not adequately protected. Frank McKenna made it clear that we have a major problem with narcotics and weapons making it into Canada. Even senior Liberals are now admitting to the government's failure to address this issue adequately.
We can pass the bill, and we will, but let us be clear that this is not the solution to our national security problems at the border. It is only the beginning.
It is because we have such problems at our border that I have taken steps myself to address these questions. In December of last year, I was joined by border MPs from every party in the House and from every part of the country in founding the parliamentary border caucus.
Our co-chairs, the member for Sarnia—Lambton, the member for Windsor West, the member for Saint-Jean and myself have led this non-partisan caucus in addressing matters of national security and trade.
We spent time meeting with the employees and managers of the border services agency and their union leaders. We have travelled to see the problems that exist at our border crossings in different parts of the country firsthand. It is obvious to us that Bill C-26 is not the only action that needs to be taken.
For example, our caucus recently met in Windsor, Ontario, the site of the world's busiest border crossing, to discuss with representatives of the U.S. congressional border caucus, including their co-chairman representative, Bart Stupak, the importance of moving on a new crossing in that area.
Forty-four percent of Canada-U.S. trade crosses at Windsor. If there is a main artery in our economy, this is it and yet, after 12 years of Liberal government, there is no enabling statute to even facilitate the creation of a new crossing. Bill C-44, elements of which could be of some assistance in making a new Windsor crossing a reality, languishes at first reading, and the Liberal government has not even given it an hour of debate since introducing it this past March.
Also, waiting times at some border crossings, especially for commercial traffic, are unacceptable, and the cost to the Canadian economy, not to mention to truckers and their families, is millions of dollars in lost income. Some of this is a result of security measures put in place on the U.S. since 9/11, which Canadians have not fully adapted to yet, but some of it is a matter of inadequate facilities and infrastructure on our side.
The issue of a passport requirement for all travellers to the U.S. was raised recently in the media. While the U.S. legislation requiring secure ID does not specifically require passports, the possibility has raised concerns on both sides of the border.
I have personally travelled to Washington, D.C. on more than one occasion to meet with congressman James Sensenbrenner, the chairman of the U.S. judiciary committee, to work on an acceptable resolution. However I do not believe the hasty response of the Deputy Prime Minister, that Canada might require passports as well, has done anything to help the situation.
By all means, let us pass Bill C-26, but I would urge this government, at a bare minimum, to begin to provide proper protection, support, resources and equipment for our border services officers and provide the resources to apprehend suspects at the border.
Let us move on enabling legislation for creating new bridges and tunnels to the U.S. Let us work with our counterparts in the U.S., as the border caucus has already been doing, to reduce waiting times, protect trade and maintain our privileged access to the world's largest market.
Canada Border Services Agency Act
June 13th, 2005 / 3:25 p.m.
Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak today to Bill C-26. I will be splitting my time with my friend and colleague from South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale.
Bill C-26 is an act to establish the Canadian Border Services Agency. It would create this agency and would bring under its umbrella the border security and intelligence functions previously carried out by three other government operations: the customs program from the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency; the intelligence and interdiction and enforcement program of the immigration program at ports of entry from the Citizenship and Immigration Canada Branch; and imports inspections reports of entry by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
With putting these three agencies under one umbrella, have we changed the size of the workforce of any of these agencies? Have we grown the bureaucracy of Canada or have we made it more organized? Have any of these others departments become smaller by the personnel they have lost to form the new Canada Border Services Agency? Has this put more resources where they are needed or has it created a new agency to oversee a group already overtaxed and spread very thin just to review our imports?
This view discusses the FAST program and the Nexus program, and they are very usable tools to provide pre-approved low-risk travellers and shippers.
As we see it at the moment, the problem with both FAST and Nexus is the infrastructure is not there to support them. Although we have created a system with which we can better serve low-risk importers and travellers, a infrastructure bottleneck is still created, specifically near my riding of Elgin--Middlesex--London. The Windsor-Detroit crossing the Port Huron-Sarnia crossing are backed up most each and every day out to the 400 series highways.
The use of a FAST system or a Nexus system starts to become impossible because of the trucks that are already in front. The government continues to look for a solution for the infrastructure piece to our borders, sometimes by creating new departments, sometimes by creating new systems and sometimes by creating new legislation like Nexus and FAST.
The true answer to our border services in southern Ontario is infrastructure. We simply do not have the capacity since 9/11, and truly since before it, to move the number of cars and trucks across bridges and tunnels between Ontario and the United States, and generally from Canada to the United States.
The years of inaction by the government has left this as a problem. The government continues to say that it is studying it. Locally, we call that “paralysis by analysis”. It continues to analyze the problem and therefore never gets to it. This may be an effective way of studying by ostriches, but humans find if we bury our heads in the sand, the problems do not go away. Canadians expect action from their government.
The next item in the bill would put in place is the Canadian Border Security Agency, although it has been acting in this capacity since December 12, 2003. Again, we have a case of the government following with legislation well after the fact of action. It has been a year and a half. We find the government a little behind itself with the legislative authority. We hope it still believes in what it wanted 18 months ago because the legislation is now before us to create the agency.
Front line border agents also are in question in the bill. It would establish a new agency for them, but we continue to hear of cases of front line border agents being overworked, working alone, working unarmed and not having the resources with which to fully function and to do their job.
Dedication is not the problem. Our border agencies are second to none. The officers on the front line are second to none. The problem is they do not have the backup or the resources to do their job. Equipping is essential.
Recent stories of border guards working alone certainly raise concerns. We consider this a fairly high-level security job in that we are trying to prevent items and people that should not be here from moving into Canada. I expect that the opposite is true of our neighbours to the south, who expect our border agency to prevent people from moving their way who should not be moving their way. If we find cases of border guards working alone and unarmed, I am not certain that we are really putting the necessary resources behind the problem.
One of the other things I found in reading this legislation was that it has the term “arrangements” built into it. This has to do with foreign states and international organizations or any person or organization. I am always afraid when I see legislation predicting future arrangements rather than stating what the arrangements might be.
Some of my colleagues this morning, in discussing this same piece of legislation, talked about the need for Canadians to soon carry passports when they enter into the United States. At the same time, legislation is coming forward that will also make it necessary for Americans to have passports when they leave and come back into their own country.
This cries out to something I mentioned earlier about border agents and the jobs they do. We are asking for an increased level of documentation in order to provide better security at our borders and the U.S. is asking that we enforce this to provide a higher level of security with respect to people entering it.
Knowing that everybody travelling into the United States will need a passport and knowing the timelines and the difficulty for people to get passports on an as needed basis, I ask that Passport Canada continue to look at this problem and make it a high priority so that passports will be available to Canadian citizens as they need them if this law passes. We are talking about being prepared for the future, when all people travelling into the United States will need passports.
In conclusion, let me note that we have new legislation before us but again well after the fact of it being put in place by order in council, legislation that contains terms like “arrangements”, and it is difficult to determine how it will be used in the future. Those questions are yet to be answered, but Bill C-26 was firmly entrenched by order in council long before the legislation came to the House to be discussed.
A new agency is being created but we have no real assurances that the three legacy agencies that these people came from will be in any way reduced by the same numbers or dollars. Have we just created a new agency that will spend money, admittedly on what is a very good point? Have the other agencies been reduced by that amount or are we simply growing the bureaucracy here in Canada?
We have a new agency working on our border, but have we addressed the real issue? As I stated earlier, the real issue is infrastructure, that is, the ability to get cars and trucks and people across the border. We have created a new agency to ensure that people, cars and trucks cross the border safely, but the government needs to quit dragging its feet on new border infrastructure, specifically in the southwestern Ontario area.
In my own riding of Elgin--Middlesex--London, we have a lot of dealings with the automotive business. We have many parts plants that supply manufacturing facilities on either side of the border. We have been stressed lately by the fact that just in time delivery needs to take place but the parts are not getting there. New decisions are being made and parts plants are locating in Michigan, Ohio or upstate New York instead of southern Ontario, where they could be providing good jobs for Canadians, because they cannot be sure that the border is open enough for them to get their parts across.
The bottleneck must be fixed. It will not be fixed by an agency. It will be fixed by this government or perhaps a good future Conservative government getting at the infrastructure problems.
We have a new agency but does this new agency have the resources to protect the border guards who are currently working? We continually hear of people working alone at unarmed border crossings. This needs to change.
I will be supporting this legislation, but as can be heard from my comments, it is perhaps not to the standards Canadians are looking for, and perhaps it needs a little more work before it comes back.