An Act to amend the Radiocommunication Act and the Telecommunications Act (antenna systems)
Sylvain Chicoine NDP
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Introduction and First Reading
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- Dec. 12, 2012 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.
Private Members' Business
December 12th, 2012 / 6:35 p.m.
The House resumed from December 6 consideration of the motion that Bill C-429, An Act to amend the Radiocommunication Act and the Telecommunications Act (antenna systems), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Private Members' Business
December 6th, 2012 / 6 p.m.
Sylvain Chicoine Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC
Mr. Speaker, first I want to thank the Union des municipalités du Québec and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities for effectively supporting my bill. I also want to thank the majority of other groups of municipalities in the other provinces, which I contacted and which also were enthusiastic about this legislation.
I also want to thank all the hon. members who used their right to speak, in most cases, to support my bill, with the exception of some government members who, during the first hour of debate, raised some objections which I would like to address.
In this regard, I would like to say that there is no regulatory duplication, since existing directives would simply be replaced and included in the act. Also, if the regulations included in Industry Canada's directive had been properly respected, perhaps we would not be debating this bill today, because the country would have probably experienced far fewer problems.
Some members did not support the bill. They said that some requirements in this legislation would make the existing regulations more vague. The Telecommunications Act and the Radiocommunication Act are framework laws that require very few specifics. Details about their implementation are included in the regulations. I think government members are well aware of that. Therefore, they are trying to pretend that this legislation would create chaos. The issue of uncertainty was also raised.
I think this is a denial of the current situation. In recent years, few bills proposed by opposition members were supported by the members opposite, and that is regrettable. They raise all sorts of objections that are questionable to say the least.
This bill does not create a huge administrative burden, as claimed earlier. I think it is perfectly normal for some documents to be presented to strengthen transparency among telecommunications promoters. Presenting a document explaining the reasons to not share an antenna site is already a requirement in the directive. Therefore, it does not create a new administrative burden, or a need for a new service at Industry Canada, as claimed by the hon. member for Ajax—Pickering in his speech.
The Conservatives are also claiming that the current regulations are effective because promoters follow Industry Canada requirements to the letter. In my opinion, this is a total denial of the current situation. Many problems have been experienced across Canada. It has been quite some time since certain members opposite have gone out to meet with people from municipalities grappling with these problems.
I believe that the current regulations are not really effective because they are not enforced. Penalties are also not applied. With this bill, I am putting the regulations into the legislation and adding some provisions.
The Conservatives are also claiming that dispute resolution is much more effective and accessible. It is time that the Minister of Industry listen to the stakeholders and talk with Industry Canada.
In closing, I find that the Conservatives' arguments against the bill are rather weak. I am asking my colleagues to evaluate the bill properly. It is not a huge bill that would make matters worse. It will have the opposite effect. This bill will not solve all the problems plaguing cities and their residents. But it will improve the current situation.
Private Members' Business
December 6th, 2012 / 5:50 p.m.
Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC
Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to participate in this debate today. I thank my colleague from Châteauguay—Saint-Constant for bringing forward Bill C-429, which would help alleviate a lot of the problems that many of us are experiencing in our local communities. I thank the member for his diligent work on this issue.
This is an issue that, when we delve into it, we find right across the country. Many communities have been faced with the difficult challenge of suddenly finding there is a cellphone tower popping up in the middle of their neighbourhood, near a school, near a residential community, in the middle of a residential community. Then they find out that if it is under 15 metres, they cannot do anything about it.
We had that situation in my community of east Vancouver. Because of the diligence of local community members who brought this to my attention and to the attention of the local member of the legislature, MLA Shane Simpson, we found out there was a problem in our local neighbourhood. We immediately went to work and started to look at the regulations or lack thereof, about what we could do. It was through the incredible hard work of local neighbours, people like Janice, that information became available in the local community. They were as surprised as anyone to find out that, without their knowledge, a cellphone tower had been erected adjacent to a low-rise apartment building at Hastings and McGill, slap bang in the middle of a residential neighbourhood, and there was virtually nothing they could do about it.
I immediately wrote to the Minister of Industry and the Minister of Health to inquire why the rules and regulations exempted these cellphone towers and that the municipality, the city of Vancouver, that wanted to be involved had no recourse to deal with the telecommunications companies that put these towers in east Vancouver and other neighbourhoods. I also raised it in the House in December 2010. I was very dissatisfied with the responses I received from both ministers.
I and Shane Simpson, the MLA, decided to proceed with a public forum in our community and to bring in the telecommunications wireless companies and the city of Vancouver to have a discussion about what should be done with the cellphone tower. Councillor Raymond Louie, who took a lot of time and interest in this issue, in responding to the concerns in the local communities, and particularly the city of Vancouver deputy city manager, Sadhu Johnston who came to our meeting, as well as the medical health officer, worked very closely with us as elected officials, with the local community and with the cellphone companies to find a resolution. It was only because we were able to get the parties together in a voluntary way that we were finally able, after more than a year's work, to get a resolution and a voluntary agreement from the company in question that it was an inappropriate location for a cellphone tower.
We had a good resolution in that one instance. However, what is not being addressed is the ongoing issue across Canada of these cellphone towers, what they are doing in local and urban communities and residential neighbourhoods and the fact that Industry Canada has really not responded. One of my constituents wrote me an email on this recently. She says, “Industry Canada are impossible to talk to. It is quite literally like talking to a brick wall. Canada is essentially allowing the cellphone companies to self-regulate”. She too makes the point, as my colleague just did, that this has been a very big topic of discussion for municipal councillors at the Federation of Municipalities.
The municipalities are asking for a very rational change. They have asked that municipal consultation be required on all towers that are to be installed.
On my part, I also brought forward Motion No. 154 to this effect in the House, calling on Industry Canada to change the current regulations so that telecommunications companies seeking to install cellphone towers must have municipal consultation regarding all towers being installed, and public consultation regarding those within 500 metres of any tower being installed. In my motion, I also called on Industry Canada to allow communities to develop their own regulation and consultation rules to prevent impacts on residential areas and areas adjacent to schools, and also to require a public review of the statistics of what is going on with these cellphone towers.
What I found out when I first started dealing with this a couple of years ago is that it is really quite incredible the number of towers that are going up across the country. Moreover, no one seems to be keeping track of them, particularly the towers under 15 metres tall. They can just go ahead and do it without the involvement of and consultation with municipalities being required.
I do think it is a very serious issue. There are also health concerns that need to be addressed. I know that many members in my community were also very worried about the health impacts of being so close to some of these towers. In fact in Vancouver the Vancouver School Board has policies to ensure that these cellphone towers, where they are over 15 metres tall, are not adjacent or close to schools.
I know there is a lot of concern. In fact there is now a citizen movement of sorts across the country to raise awareness about the issues, both from a health and a municipal perspective, and the fact that there seems to be a complete lack of regulation and attention to this issue by Industry Canada.
I am very glad that this bill is before us today, because I do feel that the bill has been very carefully put together and will address many of the concerns that have been expressed to me by my constituents.
I really want to appeal to members on all sides of the House to look at this bill on its merit. It seems to me that this is the kind of bill that is not partisan or political in any way. It is actually responding to a very real issue in local communities, whether the MP concerned be Conservative, NDP, Liberal, Bloc, or whatever.
As members of Parliament, surely we should be responding to this issue, be willing to find solutions and be looking at this bill as a possible solution. I do hope very much that this bill can get through second reading and go to committee, because I know there are people who would very much like to come forward as witnesses and who would like to speak about the work that is being done at a local level. I am sure the Federation of Canadian Municipalities would also like to come forward. I am sure that the cellphone companies themselves would like to come forward to have a discussion about this.
What we do not want to happen is this issue being pushed under the carpet and ignored. I know there are MPs from all parties who have actually dealt with this issue. I know there are constituents phoning, emailing and organizing in local communities.
Let us respond to this issue in a non-partisan way. Let us take this bill, get it to committee, have a thorough examination and actually address something in a practical, rational and realistic way. I am hopeful that members will support this bill and we can respond to our constituents' concerns about these cellphone towers.
Private Members' Business
December 6th, 2012 / 5:40 p.m.
Élaine Michaud Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this House today to support Bill C-429, An Act to amend the Radiocommunication Act and the Telecommunications Act (antenna systems), introduced by the hon. member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant.
This bill is particularly important because it affects each and every one of our ridings. I am pleased that we have the opportunity to examine this issue today.
This bill seeks to legislate the implementation and construction process of antenna systems, and to ensure the balanced development of telecommunications antennas, among others, by involving local authorities in these processes.
As we know, the telecommunications industry is growing in Canada, and we all benefit from it because we can fully enjoy its services.
This industry is essential to ensuring that Canadian businesses remain competitive and that every citizen can remain in constant contact with people around him, both on a personal and professional level.
As members of Parliament, and given the importance of BlackBerrys, emails and other forms of communication in our daily lives, we are all very aware of the importance of the telecommunications industry in our lives and in the lives of our constituents.
However, we have to admit that the current development of telecommunications towers in Canadian municipalities is poorly managed, and that the regulatory framework established by Industry Canada is unable to meet the concerns of thousands of citizens and hundreds of municipal officials.
Indeed, Industry Canada's directive CPC-2-0-03, which governs the telecommunications industry, does not include any compulsory public consultations for the construction of towers less than 15 metres high, and does not require the involvement of local authorities in the implementation process of telecommunications antennas.
Moreover, while this directive includes sanctions for non-compliance with the established regulatory framework, it seems Industry Canada does not impose these sanctions on offenders.
In June, at the last convention of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities held in Saskatoon, I had the opportunity to attend a panel on telecommunications antennas in municipalities. The participants included Bernard Lord, Industry Canada officials and, of course, municipal councillors and mayors from all regions of the country. What I heard at that panel was not particularly good nor very flattering for Industry Canada, quite the contrary. There was a lot of frustration and discontent directed at Industry Canada officials and Mr. Lord.
All that frustration convinced me of the urgent need to review the existing regulations to better harmonize the implementation process of telecommunications antennas in our municipalities.
Bill C-429 seeks to respond to the frustrations felt by citizens and municipal officials by regulating the siting and construction of antenna systems, while also democratizing the process by involving the land-use authorities, that is the municipalities, as well as citizens in the decision-making process.
First of all, this bill simplifies the application process for the shared use of antenna sites by telecommunications companies, in order to limit the unnecessary proliferation of new towers in our municipalities, which seems to be happening all across Canada.
Bill C-429 also grants the CRTC oversight power and the authority to rule on disputes regarding tower sharing, which will have the advantage of creating a single forum independent of government to resolve any disputes that arise between telecommunications companies.
In addition, the bill compels these companies to hold public consultations before constructing any tower, regardless of its height, except in cases where the construction will not hurt anyone.
For instance, my riding of Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier has some very isolated, rural municipalities. I am thinking of places like Rivière-à-Pierre, where there is no cellular service. No companies serve that region. I can assure you that the people of Rivière-à-Pierre would very much like to have a telecommunications tower in order to have cellular service in their municipality. I have no doubt that that exception would easily apply in that municipality, since there is an urgent need there.
Lastly, Bill C-429 would also require proponents to consult the local land-use authority, namely the municipality, in order to determine the local requirements and ensure that the siting of a telecommunications antenna fits in with the municipality's local development plans.
When we talk about local requirements, we are talking about a public consultation process that has already been established by the authority, discussions regarding possible tower locations and the response to reasonable and relevant concerns of the municipality and community involved. Nothing outlandish is being requested—quite the contrary.
It is important to remember that land use falls under provincial jurisdiction and is delegated to the municipalities. It is necessary to ensure that they are able to fully exercise their jurisdiction over their own land, and it is absolutely essential that antenna systems are developed collaboratively in keeping with the municipal or rural land use plan.
The purpose of the bill is certainly not to harm the industry, which is extremely important to Canada. What is more, there will not be any regulatory duplication, as some of the members opposite suggested. In fact, the existing requirements will be replaced with those set out in Bill C-429, so that particular problem will simply resolve itself once the bill is passed.
The bill introduced by the hon. member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant addresses a clear demand from municipalities and individuals who currently have no recourse at all when a telecommunications tower is erected in their municipality in a place that neither members of the community nor municipal officials find suitable.
This problem is not specific to the telecommunications industry. In fact, a number of other areas of exclusive federal jurisdiction are experiencing the same problem, since the government refuses to exercise its jurisdiction and regulate it fully, under the pretext that it does not want to harm the industry. However, the government is forgetting all the people who are directly affected by this, individuals and municipal officials, who have development plans for their cities and who, sometimes, in certain regions, have to protect farmland, which is becoming increasingly rare. All of these considerations need to be taken into account but are ignored in areas of exclusive federal jurisdiction.
I have in mind an example that affects my riding in particular, and that is the aerospace industry. The existing regulations for the construction of private airports are fairly similar to those in effect for telecommunications antennas. This area is largely unregulated, which means that private developers have a great deal of latitude and can pretty much do what they want at Canadians' expense.
Private airports, specifically, can be put anywhere in a zone considered undeveloped, without the need to consult with elected municipal officials and the public. For antennas over 15 metres it amounts to the same problem. There is the case of the unwanted construction of a private airport in Neuville. Despite opposition from hundreds of citizens and the municipal council, petitions, protests and multiple calls on Parliament to have the minister ask the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to conduct a study to address the harmonization issues between federal and provincial areas of jurisdiction, nothing has been done and the public has no protection or recourse. This is the same situation.
The protection of land and farmland, and land use are all exclusive provincial jurisdictions, but that fact is overlooked to the benefit of rich private developers, whether it is to build telecommunications antennas or airports. It is the same situation here, and it is a problem. That is why I thank the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant for introducing this kind of bill. He is forcing us to think about the needs of the provinces and municipalities and their responsibilities towards the public. It also enables us to better protect our own constituents, the people we represent.
Bill C-429 responds to a real need. I hope it will be supported by members of all the parties in the House. The public and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities clearly support my colleague's bill. I hope that members from each party will do the same.
The House resumed from November 2 consideration of the motion that Bill C-429, An Act to amend the Radiocommunication Act and the Telecommunications Act (antenna systems) be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Private Members' Business
November 2nd, 2012 / 2:20 p.m.
Joe Daniel Don Valley East, ON
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to contribute to this debate on Bill C-429, An Act to amend the Radiocommunication Act and the Telecommunications Act (antenna systems).
Our government embraces the interests of Canadians in the growth and advancement of wireless technology. We know that to provide the reliable high-speed services that are our customers want and need, radio telecommunications antennas are essential and they are to be placed in locations near where the wireless devices are used, not only for personal and business use but also by law enforcement and first responders.
The need to expand wireless networks to accommodate the growth in demand must be balanced with the community's needs and interests: the availability of reasonable locations to place the antennas technical limitations and the rigorous safety requirements that apply to antennas of every height and description. Bill C-429 seeks to amend the Radiocommunication Act and the Telecommunications Act. Most of the amendments duplicate existing requirements, but the amendments are much less clear and would increase the regulatory burden for Canadians without creating any additional benefits.
First, the bill would require that proponents consider sharing or using existing towers before installing a new one. Proponents are already required to take this step under the current rules. Under the bill, proponents would be required to consult local land use authorities to determine their requirements with respect to antenna systems. Once again, this requirement already exists and the roles and responsibilities of those involved are clearly explained, which the bill fails to do.
Next, the bill would create offences for failing to respect these general obligations. The government already has mechanisms in place to ensure compliance with the requirements related to antenna towers. Finally, the bill would provide the authority to the CRTC to mandate a given holder of a radio authorization to share given towers upon application to the telecommunications carrier.
The bill would represent a step backward, not forward, in the regulation for antenna towers. It would introduce general obligations with little guidance as to the details, while at the same time duplicating the existing procedures that guide relationships between proponents and the local communities. This would serve only to increase uncertainty among all Canadians as to what is required of them and how they ought to go about meeting these obligations. Property owners, businesses and local communities alike would be diverted from working meaningfully toward common ground. At a time when Canadians are interested as ever in clear rules to address this important issue, Bill C-429 provides less clarity than the existing procedures.
The Client Procedures Circular on Radiocommunication and Broadcasting Antenna Systems provides specific guidance to proponents of new antenna infrastructure that must be followed in order to meet the government's objectives of striking a balance between enabling the development of needed wireless infrastructure and taking into consideration local concerns. Additionally, current procedures provide dispute resolution mechanisms that allow impasses between local communities, land use authorities, such as municipalities, and the proponents to be resolved.
In place of meaningful guidelines that ensure that local concerns are taken into account in an antenna-siting decisions, the obligations outlined in the bill emphasize paperwork over meaningful consultation. This sort of approach does not provide meaningful benefit to the public.
For instance, under the bill, even a property owner who wishes to install a low impact antenna system would have to engage in an extensive documentation procedure, including direct government involvement. These requirements, according to the bill, would apply to any person who plans the installation or modification of an antenna system, regardless of the type of installation or service offered. It would apply regardless of whether community stakeholders have voiced any concerns.
I would also direct particular attention to the redundant provisions proposed by the bill that would provide additional unnecessary power to the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission. This power would allow the CRTC to issue orders to holders of radio authorizations issued by the Minister of Industry to require that they share towers with telecommunications carriers.
This proposed power is so broad that it would allow the CRTC to issue orders to any holder of a radio authorization, including public safety agencies and other non-commercial carriers. It would also introduce overlapping authorities with the existing powers of the Minister of Industry, who is responsible for regulating the behaviour of those holding the radio authorizations.
There is little reason to introduce these additional regulations and authorities. Doing so would only add to the regulatory uncertainty and increase the administrative burden on government.
Let me be absolutely clear. The bill would do nothing for the health or safety of Canadians, given that it would not change the requirements that are imposed on every tower or antenna, regardless of height or location. It would harm consumers and those in need of emergency services by tying up the growth of essential services, wireless infrastructure and paperwork. It would intrude upon property owners who wished to install basic antenna systems. It would increase the costs to taxpayers by requiring direct government involvement in every antenna installation. At best is it would duplicate some of the existing requirements, while adding ineffectual red tape.
In the meantime, our government continues to take action, consulting those who are interested in this important issue of tower sharing to find solutions that could reduce the need for new towers, at the same time enforcing existing requirements with rigour. It is this kind of proactive approach that should be favoured by the House, rather than unnecessary red tape.
I urge all hon. members to oppose the bill.
Private Members' Business
November 2nd, 2012 / 2:10 p.m.
Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough—Rouge River, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to rise in favour of Bill C-429, An Act to amend the Radiocommunication Act and the Telecommunications Act (antenna systems).
I would like to take this opportunity to thank my hon. colleague, the hon. member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, for introducing the important and necessary changes to this act, for which my constituents are also grateful.
Citizens and municipalities across Canada, including Scarborough—Rouge River, have expressed their concerns with the uncontrolled development of radiocommunication and telecommunication towers. Constituents like mine are frustrated that the players involved, the proponents, are not taking their concerns into consideration.
I myself have had meetings and received numerous correspondence from residents from the Rosewood community in Scarborough—Rouge River, who are opposed to the tower that is being built in their neighbourhood and our community. Among the reasons they are opposed is that a tower already exists in that neighbourhood. They also expressed health concerns with a tower so close to a residential area, as well as concerns for the community's aesthetics. A City of Toronto planner also suggested finding an alternate location. Residents from this community have sent emails, letters and petitions to government representatives, as well as the proponent of the tower, to express their objections to the creation of it.
I also wrote a letter to the CRTC, and the company wishing to put up the tower, to express our shared concerns. In that letter, I requested that the service provider give strong consideration to the concerns of the community and the municipality and work together to find a feasible solution to the problem. That is why I am pleased to stand up in the House to support this bill that was introduced by my hon. colleague.
It is vital to have a balanced approach to the industry's growth and the concerns of Canadians. There are many changes included in the bill that would benefit my constituents of Scarborough—Rouge River and impact Canadians from coast to coast to coast. The bill is what the residents of Rosewood in Scarborough—Rouge River are asking for, that being an avenue to have their voices heard. The bill would seek to not only regulate the development and construction of antenna systems but also to democratize the process, by involving the municipalities and citizens of these municipalities in the decision-making process through a more clear and thorough public consultation process.
I want to be clear. This is not about blocking the industry's growth. Wireless telecommunications is an industry that generates enormous economic benefits for the Canadian economy of around $43 billion. It also employs more than 261,000 Canadians. I, for one, rely heavily on my wireless device and presume that the 26 million other wireless subscribers do as well.
The bill is about ensuring that the development of the telecommunications industry is orderly, efficient and respects citizens and local planning.
I support Bill C-429 because it would legislate the process for constructing and installing antenna systems and helps to ensure a balanced development of the telecommunications antennas.
In addition, and in my opinion, the most important piece is that the bill would democratize the decision-making process by involving the land use authorities, citizens and residents of the areas.
According to directive CPC-2-0-03, towers under 15 metres are currently exempt from the consultation process. Therefore, if one is building a tower that is 14.9 metres tall, there are no obligations to have any public consultative processes. That does not seem right. Regardless of height, I believe concerned citizens and the land use authorities deserve an avenue to be heard. This bill would remedy this flaw by requiring public consultation for all towers and antennas. With this bill, telecommunication companies or persons interested in putting up a tower, the proponents, would no longer be able to install antennas without taking into consideration the concerns of municipalities and citizens as part of the project development process.
This would involve consultation to determine local requirements, including a public consultation process that must be held for the construction of any tower, antennas or antenna-bearing structures regardless of their height, a discussion of possible locations and a response to the reasonable and relevant concerns of the land use authorities and the communities they represent.
Industry Canada would have to issue a document to the proponent confirming that the public consultation process has been respected. Following these consultations, the proponent would release a document showing that discussions were held in good faith and setting out the concerns of each party.
I have heard from many constituents since my election, about their concerns with telecommunications antennae in their neighbourhoods and they have clearly expressed their desire to be consulted and included in the decision-making process. My constituents are looking for a place where they can have their say.
In addition, the bill would encourage a more efficient and fair tower sharing between companies by requiring permit holders to negotiate in good faith and produce documentation explaining the positions they have reached. This provision would thereby reduce the proliferation of redundant towers. Moreover, should any conflict arise among the proponents and competitors about tower sharing, the bill would give the CRTC the power to settle disputes and establish a unique and independent forum for settling those disputes.
This certainly would be an improvement upon the current process where disputes are settled by Industry Canada or an arbitrator. The current process is one which stakeholders have advised is lengthy and cumbersome. Stakeholders have also indicated that it fails to encourage sharing of tower sites. Another benefit of giving the CRTC the authority to settle disputes regarding antenna sharing would be that its decision would establish precedents that would clarify the requirements for sharing radio communications installations and would provide direction on the rights and responsibilities of telecommunications.
Finally, there is also accountability added into the bill with a provision regarding penalties for non-compliance. Thank goodness the NDP and hon. members like my colleague are listening to our constituents and proposing real action on their needs and concerns. Moreover, as we have been hearing over and over again, the bill demonstrates how important consultation and democratic processes are for Canadians and the NDP. A public forum, a conversation about locations and alternatives and a response from the department all sound like reasonable, democratic actions for decision, something we know the Conservatives seem to have an aversion to as seen with their Trojan horse budget bill and with the most recent budget implementation act.
New Democrats want to protect our urban and rural environments from the uncontrolled development of antenna systems. The bill would not increase the regulatory burden, but simply and importantly would put into law an existing Industry Canada directive. We would ask simply that promoters respect municipal development plans and take into consideration the concerns of municipalities and citizens like those within the Rosewood community in my riding.
Also, encouraging and facilitating the sharing of antenna sites by telecommunications companies makes sense. The bill would do so by streamlining the site-sharing application and dispute resolution process and giving oversight to the CRTC.
Finally, laws without proper enforcement can simply be ineffective. Laying out clear penalties for non-compliance with acts and regulations can ensure its enforcement and the bill would do just that.
I thank my hon. colleague for taking the time to consult with his constituents and Canadians across the country and putting forth this bill. I know residents in Scarborough—Rouge River will be happy to support the bill moving forward.
Private Members' Business
November 2nd, 2012 / 2 p.m.
Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in this House today to debate the bill introduced by my hon. colleague from Châteauguay—Saint-Constant.
I will talk not only about the content of the bill, but also about its purpose. I will also discuss what we need to do to make sure we examine this issue with all due care.
I also want to speak about the problems with cell towers, which constituents of mine have raised with me over the years, and more frequently in recent times. I know it is beyond the comments of the hon. parliamentary secretary, but one of the big concerns people have is that they cannot get information. It seems that Industry Canada actually has a fair bit of information, but it is put in complicated ways and in disparate locations so that we really have to dig hard to figure out what is going on in each location. If we have a particular location in mind and want to find out what power there is from that tower, what the radio frequencies are, et cetera, we cannot find out.
I am not saying there are negative health effects associated with the present levels we hear about. However, I do have constituents who are concerned about this and who worry about those effects. Some of them have said that they accept the fact that the science today does not show there is a problem with this, but they have seen so many things where 25 years ago they thought something was fine and not causing a problem at all and today they find out that it is causing a problem. There are so many examples of that, people do not have complete confidence in what technologies such as this can do and what effects they may have.
I think it is very reasonable to say that we should have a very simple way to find out, in relation to a tower at a particular address, the key information about what is happening there. It is very difficult as it stands now to find that on the Industry Canada website and it ought to be made much easier.
I also want to start by letting my colleagues know that based upon our initial assessment of Bill C-429, we believe the House should pass the bill at second reading and send the legislation to committee for an in-depth study. That way we could benefit from expert testimony on this subject and look for ways to strengthen and improve the bill.
It is clear from a quick scan of media that cell towers are becoming a point of concern in just about every province in the country. In fact, as the bill's sponsor points out, local residents' associations, landowners, municipal councillors and others are seeing cell towers popping up all over the place and they feel they are left out of the process. There is no consultation with them. There is no consideration of the impact on their neighbourhoods, no negotiations at all. Sometimes these things are not the most attractive items in the neighbourhood and people do not find them all that desirable. Obviously it has led to hostile feelings and a sense of powerlessness among people in the neighbourhood.
My colleague said that he introduced a bill that would create legislation to support the existing Industry Canada directive on public consultations. He circulated a letter yesterday in which he said:
The bill will ensure that telecommunications antennas are installed in a logical manner that respects the interests of communities while increasing access to modern telecommunications services.
I am sure it will not be that easy to have the issue settled in a logical manner. I expect that cell phone companies will bring forward arguments to support what they are doing and explain that if we want to have state-of-the-art wireless services, we also have to accept the necessary infrastructure.
I think people understand that, but I think we also have to recognize that finding middle ground, although it is difficult to find, is worth pursuing. It does not mean we should give up and not try. From personal discussions, I know this is an issue that could be a growing cause of friction in countless communities.
Let us look at what the bill actually does. Bill C-429 would amend the Radiocommunication Act in order to provide for the possibility of sharing antenna system infrastructures, and to require the proponent to consult the land use authority and hold a public consultation. It would also amend the Telecommunications Act to allow the telecommunications carrier to apply to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to gain access to masts, towers and other antenna-supporting structures belonging to the holder of an authorization under the Radiocommunication Act. I think those are worthwhile objectives.
It is obvious that something has to be done, but we also have to make sure that we get it right. Too many consumers are depending on this.
The hon. parliamentary secretary highlighted the issue of red tape and not wanting to have too much regulatory burden placed on industry. I understand that. At the same time, it is important to recognize and try to address the real concerns of people in the neighbourhoods where these are located.
I know that the member for Peterborough has heard about the issue. Teresa Daw represents 160 homeowners and has been a forceful opponent of a proposed telecom tower application on Lansdowne Street in Peterborough. In a recent letter to the Minister of Industry, she wrote:
We find it incomprehensible that Industry Canada has neither appropriately responded to our correspondence nor committed to considering our reasonable and well-grounded concerns in their analysis of this application. We find it equally incomprehensible that the proponent does not appear to be held responsible to address our concerns, particularly those that are governed by CPC-2-0-03 and/or pertain to the accuracy of the description of a local environment.
In Edmonton, people are upset with a cellphone antenna being built in a church steeple. They are angry over how the tower was approved. The hon. member for Edmonton—Leduc has pointed out that is in his riding.
Others have put forward very solid arguments calling for a cell tower protocol that gives residents a say in where these towers are erected and a meaningful role in the process.
The stories of these concerned residents in Edmonton and Peterborough are repeated in communities across Canada. I know, because I have heard them from my own constituents in Halifax West, who have been angry about the lack of public input in cell tower locations in their own neighbourhoods.
Some in fact have had positive results. Just over a year ago, a large number of residents gathered at the Wallace Lucas Community Centre in Lucasville, Nova Scotia to oppose an EastLink cell tower on Daisywood Drive in Hammonds Plains. Due to community concerns, EastLink responded by moving the location 100 meters and it was approved by community council. This moved it further from some of the houses, but not all, so not everyone was satisfied with that. Clearly, not everyone felt that was a big improvement, but at least it was some improvement as a result of that community involvement. Although the meeting was held by the municipal land use authority, the residents felt the decision was already made and that they had no say in whether the tower was actually to be built or not. They felt they were stuck having it in their area. It was more a question of where exactly it was going to go.
There was another case, this one in Bedford. A constituent found out just one week before a cellphone company planned to upgrade a cell tower that was already in use by the water commission. Because it was only an upgrade and not new construction, no public consultation was held at all. This particular constituent felt that the public was given very little notice and no detailed information about the cell tower, the radio frequency output and so forth. That is not acceptable.
It seems to me to be very clear. This is not difficult. It is just simple information that ought to be made available to the public in an easily accessible way. The Internet is a marvellous tool for that sort of thing. I personally found it extremely frustrating when I attempted, for several years, to get data on a cellphone tower inside a church tower on Donaldson Avenue in Halifax, in my riding. After something like five or six years, I finally got the information. However, it was a very frustrating process and very frustrating for the constituent who lives across the street from that church, from whom I hear about this whenever I knock on his door. Therefore, I was glad to finally get the information.
I very much appreciate the efforts of the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, who introduced this bill in the House.
As I have already said, we must support this bill at second reading and send it to committee so that it can be studied, so that we can hear from experts and make an informed decision on the best way to manage this growing problem.
Private Members' Business
November 2nd, 2012 / 1:50 p.m.
Chris Alexander Ajax—Pickering, ON
Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to thank the hon. member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant for introducing such an important bill.
Bill C-429 aims to improve a situation in a sector that is rapidly expanding across Canada. This sector provides services to all Canadians. All Canadians rely on these services in emergencies, in their daily lives and in meeting their family's needs.
We want to discuss this issue to improve the regulations and legislation in this area. However, for the reasons I will describe, we do not think that this bill achieves the objectives set by the government and by Canadians.
We know this technology has given us a richer experience. It has added value, productivity and pleasure to the lives of Canadians across the board. However, with ever more bandwidth-intensive multimedia applications being developed for mobile uses, with high-speed data being required and with additional radio frequency spectrum becoming available, the pressure for existing towers and existing antennas to support more service than ever and for new towers to be built is obviously without precedent. The restructuring of our economy to reinforce the presence of e-commerce and to allow consumers to conduct ordinary financial transactions on their mobile phones means that we can expect these volumes of data to continue to grow.
Let us not forget the most urgent situations, the most tragic circumstances in which people are now depending on their mobile phones, either as eyewitnesses or as victims of accidents or crimes. Something like one-half of all 911 calls today in Canada are initiated by someone using a mobile phone. Police, firefighters, ambulance operators, air navigators, national defence, all of our first responders know this. They also know that when an accident happens where there are no mobile services, where we do not have a tower or antenna nearby, it is much more difficult for eyewitnesses or those involved to get the action they need.
Unfortunately, in supporting the goal of building new antennas and building a better system across Canada, Bill C-429 does not do the job. It would duplicate existing regulatory requirements. It would impose an additional regulatory and administrative burden on everyone without any discernable benefit. It would add red tape and this is obviously a challenge that our government has spent a lot of time trying to focus on. When government gets in the way of private enterprise, when government makes a sector less efficient or less productive, it affects everyone. It raises the costs of telecommunications and we do not want to allow that to happen any more than it already has.
It would also require that Industry Canada be involved in all cases, even for TV antennas or satellite dishes attached to someone's home, which is not currently the case. We want the industry to manage its own affairs and manage the question of locating antennas and towers as autonomously as possible, obviously with the participation in most cases of municipalities. The bill would add paperwork, literally, and require whole offices to be created in Industry Canada at a time when we do not think that is necessary.
To be clear, there is another issue that Bill C-429 does not address and that is health and safety considerations. Much of the debate that we hear today about mobile devices and mobile communications has to do with the potential impact of all these radio waves on our bodies, particularly on those living near the antennas. That is definitely being studied. It needs attention. It is an object of concern.
However, this bill does not address those issues. They are regulated under the Radiation Emitting Devices Act or Safety Code 6, which are effectively enforced today on all antennas and towers regardless of height or location. This bill does not seek to amend those provisions.
The government's current requirements for the regulation of antenna supporting structures were developed based on the results of extensive national consultation. Public, industry and municipalities were involved across the country and, as I will mention a little later, we are continuing these consultations on issues where we think there is even more room for improvement.
The result of these consultations was a kind of balance: a balance between the needs of Canadian consumers—of course the well-being of Canadians and their ability to use cell phones safely—and the needs of police officers, firefighters and other people who respond to emergencies, solve crises and who rely on these radio-communication and telecommunication services.
This balance is important, and as with so many issues this House has considered, whether it is the Copyright Act or the military justice bill that is still before the House, there are many stakeholders and many interests. We have to strike the right balance to make sure the interests of consumers, industry and safety are kept intact, and indeed advanced.
We think our regulation is now doing that. We think this bill would break that balance. It is not surprising to see a bill like this imposing an additional administrative and regulatory burden, additional costs on Industry Canada, and additional red tape. We have heard that in the opposition members' comments on our budget bills and on many of the bureaucracy-cutting measures that the government has tried to bring in.
The $21 billion carbon tax is probably the most obvious example of this heavy-handed interventionist approach that the NDP has committed to, at least according to their last electoral platform, but there are many other examples.
As for tower sharing, it is obvious.
Our government is in favour of tower sharing. That is why, since 2008, under our government, we have required all companies wanting to erect a new structure to explore the possibility of sharing with other users. They do not have the right to erect new structures if there is no good reason to do so.
These reasons can be related to the maximum capacity of a tower or issues related to technical incompatibility of the proposed shared users. The government has the ability to resolve disputes between operators, and even to say that a reason given for not sharing is inadmissible.
We want to improve that.
That is why, since June 2012, there has been a new consultation process.
We are seeking stakeholder views on proposed changes to the requirements to share towers that would expedite the tower sharing process and further strengthen the effectiveness of that policy.
The vast majority of proponents of new towers follow the requirements to the letter. They examine tower sharing options. In circumstances where it is not possible and it proves necessary to erect a new structure, they have to consult with local stakeholders, including land use authorities and the public. Most importantly, because proponents follow these requirements, the vast majority of the antennas erected each year are developed without the need for direct government intervention.
This is the kind of dynamic that we want to see reinforced. Obviously the Department of Industry investigates to ensure the enforcement of standards for antennas of every height and every type. This has resulted in non-compliant towers being taken down in residential or suburban areas.
In contrast to the above, the bill as proposed would require government's direct and active intervention in over 1,000 antennas erected each year, even for those that are intended for personal use, even if tower sharing arrangements had been considered and even if there are no stakeholder concerns.
It would impose extensive record-keeping and verification procedures. It could create confusion between companies and the municipalities without creating an ability to resolve those disputes.
For this reason we cannot support the bill. We want a Canadian industry that is effective, modern, innovative and low cost. We want one that serves Canadians. We know that there are challenges, especially on the cost front in this country compared to other jurisdictions. The bill will not achieve the goals that Canadians want us to achieve. We think the consultation process in existing legislation is the way to go.