House of Commons Hansard #159 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was transport.

Topics

Transportation Amendment Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Gouk Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, in terms of the democratic deficit, as I said to reporters when I talked to a number of people about leaving this place, if this House had worked the way that the Standing Committee on Transport worked for the most part, we would have had a better House. For the most part on the transport committee we have put partisan issues aside, although they have to arise once in a while. We have listened to one another. We have considered one another's positions and we have accepted that. If this House would operate that way, more democratically, we would have a much better place.

Specifically with regard to the member's question on the hopper car issue, that was one of several recommendations from our committee. It was ignored by the government. The minister himself said that he would look very favourably at that, but actually the Minister of Finance is the scarecrow in all this. Every time we make a recommendation about airport rents, I have to go see you know who.

With hopper cars, maybe it is a coincidence but one of the principal activists in the Farmer Rail Car Coalition is now the campaign manager of the Minister of Finance. I wonder how he made out in this whole process and if that was his reward for trying to get king you know who re-elected.

Transportation Amendment Act
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12:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I wish to add my voice and say congratulations to the member for British Columbia Southern Interior. He has been a fine member of Parliament and a workhorse on committee and on the transportation issue. Congratulations to him.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Longueuil--Pierre-Boucher.

Transportation Amendment Act
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12:55 p.m.

Bloc

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.

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1:10 p.m.

Yukon
Yukon

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for your wonderful service this term. I know that it has not been easy, but you are doing a great job.

The hon. member's excellent and positive speech covered a lot of very good areas. I hope the hon. member will support a major project for Canada in my riding. She has probably heard me mention the Alaska railway link, joining the railway that is already there with the great Canadian Railway Network, which would be a great expansion of railway in Canada. There is a study going on now to see whether it is feasible economically, socially and environmentally. Hopefully she would be in support of this, and for one of the reasons she mentioned, which is the environmental aspects of rail.

Also, we have a great railway that comes from the ocean in Alaska, from Skagway up to Whitehorse. It was an engineering feat at the time of the gold rush and is carrying a record number of tourists now. Part of the act would make sure that the railbed could not be dismantled without at least offering it to the city of Whitehorse, for instance, or other areas that could use that rail. It would be much more environmentally friendly for us to have tourists on that rail rather than in trucks or cars. I hope the member would support those types of initiatives.

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1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Caroline St-Hilaire Longueuil, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his comment or, rather, his question.

As I said in my speech, if there is one thing that is important to the Bloc Québécois it is the entire set of environmental issues. The railway is, of course, environmentally friendly.

However, I am somewhat disappointed in my colleague's speech. In fact, he should not be addressing his comment to me but to the government, which has done nothing, and especially to the Minister of Transport. The minister is quite adept at playing petty politics on the backs of Quebeckers. However, when it comes to drafting bills on transportation to implement concrete measures everywhere in Quebec and Canada to promote sustainable development, we are still waiting.

I tabled a bill to promote public transportation by giving a financial incentive to those who use it. The House passed it at second reading. However, the government could have sped up the process by passing it at third reading. That way Quebeckers and Canadians could now be benefiting from a tax deduction for using public transportation. However, nothing came of it.

At the last minute, of course, this government is quickly handing out some goodies, thinking it can buy votes in Quebec and Canada. I simply want to remind my colleague that Quebeckers and Canadians will not be had.

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1:10 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member's speech was interesting, particularly when she described the efficacy of the Canadian Transportation Agency in dealing with consumer concerns. She had concerns about whether this agency would exercise the new powers that are included in the act. She also said she thought that a major consumer organization said that the powers it had were too timid. That is a very serious concern for me.

We do need effective consumer protection. I have seen a number of Canadian agencies that are like the Canada Industrial Relations Board, which has proven completely ineffective in terms of serving telecommunications workers in my riding who were locked out by the TELUS corporation. They won quite a number of judgments at the CIRB regarding bargaining in bad faith, yet none of them were enforced.

I have heard complaints by the steelworkers about the lack of community input and representation on an agency such as the Canadian International Trade Tribunal.

We have heard concerns from members of ACTRA about the CRTC and its inability to stand up for Canadian content regulations and how important that is to workers in that industry.

Could the member comment further on how this agency might be made truly effective in dealing with the kinds of consumer issues that confront air travellers in Canada?

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1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Caroline St-Hilaire Longueuil, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's question is indeed a very pertinent one. I would have like to have had more time for debate, because I believe there are grounds for amendment or, at the very least, improvement to this bill.

Unfortunately, we are running out of time. The clock will strike midnight in five minutes. Perhaps I am suffering from acute paranoia, but I suspect that, when all is said and done, it may have suited the Minister of Transport to have us discuss this bill at the last minute.

I would have liked far more time in order to improve this bill and perhaps find some way to give more power to the agency. The consumer group Option consommateurs recognizes the existence of numerous shortcomings in both air and rail transport.

Today we can talk all we want, offer suggestions, express wishes, but we know very well that the government will fall within hours. Let us hope that the next Minister of Transport will be far more attuned to consumers and more respectful of Quebec's demands.

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1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague for her speech on transportation Bill C-44. I know how keen she was on getting this bill before the House so that we could dispose of it before the end of the business of this House.

My question is on the safety of people living close to rail lines. This was touched on briefly already. There are 12 cities or towns in my riding and 10 of these have rail lines running through them. There is, of course, the noise problem my colleague has referred to, but there is also the matter of vibrations and obstruction of roads into town. The municipal bylaws allow only two access roads to cross the tracks, but often, because of the length of the train, both of these are blocked by the same train, and it may sit there for many minutes, sometimes hours. This is totally inconceivable. The municipalities must take action.

Does my colleague believe there is anything in this bill to reassure the people of my riding that the agency could, in future, intervene to settle problems such as this?

Transportation Amendment Act
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1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Caroline St-Hilaire Longueuil, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Chambly—Borduas and pay tribute to him, because he is doing a very good job of defending his constituents. We have spent a lot of time talking about the problems with the railways, particularly in his riding.

The agency will have a little bit more power. However, we do have one criticism: this section does not restrict nuisances other than noise. Consequently, the agency will not be able to resolve complaints or mediate solutions relating to vibrations, for example, or fumes such as oils and gasoline.

As I have said all along, in principle, that would have been one of the amendments we would have made or suggested with regard to extending the agency's powers. I must remind the House that, in light of recommendations made at the request of stakeholders, the agency will still have a little bit more power than before. However, this does not change the fact that complaints about noise may wind up in court. As a result, this may discourage people from filing a complaint.

It is also important to remember that the minister could have shown leadership by sending a clear message to the railway companies. He could have told them that they needed to be good corporate citizens. Obviously, we want to give them a hand and increase rail transport but, at the same time, we want them to be good companies.

Citizens have rights. When anyone locates next to a yard or station, there may be some inconveniences. However, the railway company—be it CN, CP Rail or even VIA Rail—must be aware of the impact its activities have on the public. We wish that we could have improved the bill in committee or even in the House, in order to ensure greater respect for the well-being of people in Quebec and Canada.

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1:20 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is with some frustration today that I rise to speak to Bill C-44, an act to amend the Canada Transportation Act.

Members of the NDP caucus will be supporting referral to committee of Bill C-44, although, as I will enumerate throughout my presentation, we have serious concerns about certain aspects of this bill. Other aspects of the bill we are very much in favour of. The frustration stems from the fact that this bill has languished for 10 months. It was introduced in March 2005. We are at the end of November 2005 and lo and behold, surprise, surprise, suddenly the government is moving on this bill which should have been moved back in March. It is now 10 months later and that is absolutely appalling.

When we take into consideration the importance of the transportation infrastructure and transportation in Canada, the world's largest democracy and a country that is with geographic challenges that virtually no other country in the world has to face, our transportation infrastructure is absolutely vital. The fact that the government sat on this bill for 10 months before deciding to move it forward on the eve of a vote on a non-confidence motion is extremely frustrating to members of Parliament who are concerned about this issue.

It is not surprising because we have seen the Liberal government over the last two weeks try to make up for its neglect over the past 12 years. For 12 years there has been inaction in a whole variety of areas and now suddenly in the last two weeks we have seen the government cramming as though it were cramming for an exam, trying desperately to show some progress in areas that it has neglected. I will come back to transportation in a moment, but let us look at some of the other issues.

There is the question of child poverty. We have a record number of poor children in this country and the government has done nothing about that.

There is the issue of the decline in quality of jobs. We know that 60% of Canadian families have seen a decline in their income in real terms on the watch of the Liberal government. Over 60% of Canadian families are earning less in real terms than they were in 1989. The government has done virtually nothing to address that issue. In fact, in a very irresponsible way it has talked about this myth of prosperity, that somehow Canadians are doing extremely well.

We know that the wealthy in this country are doing better than ever. Corporate lawyers and CEOs have had substantial increases in their family incomes, but for most Canadian families it is harder and harder to make ends meet. The government refuses to recognize that, let alone do anything about it.

On the environment there was an announcement this week that greenhouse gas emissions, when the target was a reduction of 20%, have actually increased by 24%. In fact, Canada is one of the worst offenders in the industrialized world. The government has shown absolutely no inclination to seriously address the environmental issues that the member for Toronto—Danforth and the rest of the NDP caucus have been pushing in the House.

There is the issue of for profit health care, another area where the Liberal government has refused to take action. We see public health care dollars increasingly used to finance private for profit health care. We know in the United States that private for profit health care costs twice as much and leaves tens of millions of Americans out of any sort of substantive health care system.

This lack of action on transportation is similar to the lack of action that I have mentioned in a whole host of other areas. That is why in the New Democratic Party corner of the House, along with our colleagues from the Bloc Québécois and the Conservative Party, the frustration with the government has reached new highs.

Let us get back to the issue of Bill C-44. I would like to briefly enumerate the key amendments to the Canada Transportation Act that were tabled in Parliament, as I mentioned, last March and which we are finally discussing today on the eve of a non-confidence vote.

The bill includes a new, modernized and simplified national transportation policy statement; new provisions addressing the approval and regulation of international bridges and tunnels; a new provision authorizing the Canadian Transportation Agency, on the recommendation of the minister, to regulate greater transparency in the advertisement of air fares, and I will come back to that in a moment; improvements to and expansion of the recourses available to rail shippers while maintaining existing running rights; improvements to the policy framework for publicly funded passenger rail services; a public interest review process for mergers and acquisitions of all federally regulated transportation services; a provision allowing the Canadian Transportation Agency to address railway noise complaints, and I will come back to that as it is one aspect of the bill that we strongly support; legislative framework to consolidate the current powers of VIA Rail Canada; a reduction in the number of members of the Canadian Transportation Agency; and the integration of the air travel complaints function into its normal business. There are other clauses. This bill is fairly lengthy with 60 pages and has a variety of amendments.

I would like to touch on the key areas. I will start with the issue of the modernized and simplified national transportation policy statement. Fundamentally, this is an area of key neglect by the Liberal government. We heard the announcement again in the cramming that we have seen over the last two weeks on the Pacific gateway initiative in British Columbia for transportation infrastructure. The fact is that the infrastructure issue has not been addressed in over a decade. We have seen systematic penny-wise and pound foolish policies. There have been cuts to the kind of capital funding that is needed to allow our infrastructure to keep current with expanding demand. With the transportation infrastructure, it is fundamentally important.

In British Columbia, because we have fallen behind, $2.5 billion would be needed right now for the transportation infrastructure. We saw with the Pacific gateway that about $190 million has been allocated. A big chunk of that is actually going to support the operations of another Liberal appointed board that will be set up to oversee that structure. Three projects have been approved out of that $190 million in total moneys, which falls appallingly short of the actual needs, which as I mentioned are $2.5 billion.

Some $191 million has been allocated for three projects: one in Saskatchewan, one in Delta and one in Port Coquitlam in British Columbia. Another $400 million has been set aside, basically awaiting the election, one would imagine. The money has not been allocated. It is money that will be part of some photo opportunity, I would imagine, over the course of the next few weeks. The reality is that we are falling so phenomenally short of what is needed to address the critical infrastructure needs in British Columbia. I mention that because this is just one example of the neglect we have seen in our transportation infrastructure over the course of the Liberal government.

In my own riding of Burnaby--New Westminster, we have seen with Fraser port that the Fraser Port Authority is being obliged to spend approximately $3 million a year to fund dredging of the Fraser River, when that money should be going toward maintaining and enhancing the capital infrastructure that is needed in transportation with the Fraser Port Authority. There is $3.1 million going to that ongoing dredging maintenance because the dredging is not being funded through the Ministry of Transport. What is happening is that Fraser port is not able to keep up with the capital funding to provide the infrastructure to meet its growing needs and to provide for the important maintenance of the existing infrastructure. It is another example of neglect.

A final example I would like to mention when we talk about the national transportation policy statement is the lack of clarity around the funding for the Toronto Port Authority. I have raised in the House before that $35 million was allocated to the Toronto Port Authority for a bridge that was never built. For all intents and purposes, this is money that is a grant to the Toronto Port Authority when we know that the Canada Marine Act prohibits such a grant. For weeks and weeks we have been demanding answers. For months there have been access to information requests made. The government refuses to come clean on what happened to that $35 million, where it went, to whom it was paid and what the justification was.

I raise all that by way of background. They are three key examples of why the issue of a policy statement is beyond the greater issue which is the Liberal government's neglect of transportation. That is undeniable, British Columbia being a key case where $2.5 billion is needed and $191 million has been granted. That is the first key amendment I wanted to address.

The second is the issue around the approval and regulation of international bridges and tunnels. As I mentioned at the outset, we in the NDP will be supporting sending the bill to committee to get the important amendments. Again we are frustrated by the fact that we have been waiting 10 months for the bill to come forward. It could have easily gone through. We could have applied those amendments and we could be speaking at third reading and passing the bill today, but because of the delay by the government, we are not doing that.

We have concerns about the issue of the approval of regulation on international bridges and tunnels. My colleague the member for Windsor West will be speaking to that very issue in the House later this afternoon.

The third issue I would like to address is that of creating transparency on airfares. This is something that is addressed to a certain extent in Bill C-44, the issue of creating transparency and having an air travel complaints function, but it falls far short of what is actually needed.

I would like to mention some of the concerns that have been raised by the organizations that are involved in the travellers' protection initiative. I would like to reiterate what one of the members of the travellers' protection initiative, the president and CEO of the Travel Industry Council of Ontario, Michael Pepper, said.

The travellers' protection initiative is a Canada-wide alliance of consumer protection and industry groups formed to demand greater federal government protection for Canadian airline passengers. It was launched in June of this year. It is comprised of the Travel Industry Council of Ontario, the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and Quebec-based Option consommateurs. There are also a wide variety of other groups representing consumers from across Canada that are part of the travellers' protection initiative.

They are calling on the federal government to address their six point air travel consumer reform. Very clearly, Bill C-44 does not address their concerns. They are calling for the following elements: greater financial monitoring and disclosure to the public; protection of advanced ticket sales; full price disclosure in all advertising media; reinstatement and strengthening of the position of air complaints commissioner; a national travellers' compensation fund for when airlines fail.

Jetsgo and Canada 3000 are two recent examples where the fact that this is not in place has meant real hardship for consumers. Some people have lost everything. In the case of Jetsgo, last spring people found themselves completely out of pocket for the tickets that they had purchased because there is no protection for travellers. The issue of a national travellers' compensation fund is fundamental to addressing the important issues that Bill C-44 touches on, but it does not address those issues adequately.

Finally, the travellers' protection initiative calls for a program within Transport Canada to collect and publish information on airline service performance in order to better inform consumers about their choices and promote fair competition among airlines.

If the government had chosen to bring forward Bill C-44 last spring, we would have already been able to push those amendments through, because the NDP strongly supports the travellers' protection initiative, and today we would be debating a bill that would be better and clearly more in the public interest.

I mentioned earlier the issue around the noise provisions for dealing with noise complaints in Bill C-44. This is an element that we strongly support. There is no existing noise complaint mechanism. In fact, in my riding of Burnaby--New Westminster, in the Westminster Quay neighbourhood, this is a key concern. People have no effective way of dealing with the issue of railway noise complaints. In the case of the Westminster Quay, this affects many thousands of residents. So, this is one aspect of the bill that is good. It could be improved through investigation at committee. But, again, because of the time when this is coming forward, we are looking at a bill that, through the 10 month neglect with Bill C-44, obviously will not go through the required hoops for adoption.

Finally, there are a couple of other issues. There is the issue of VIA Rail. We strongly support enhancing our national rail passenger service. VIA Rail is a fundamental part of that. We saw with the Conservative cutbacks that the Liberals have basically kept those in place. We continue to have parts of the VIA Rail network that no longer exist. A very important aspect of that is the rail line from Winnipeg, the southern line through to Vancouver. Here we have an issue of the neglect of VIA Rail that would finally start to be addressed. However, given the 10 months of waiting for Bill C-44 to finally be introduced by the government, we will not be able to adequately deal with that section.

Then there are the amendments with regard to a public interest review process for mergers and acquisitions that are part of the bill.

We know full well how effective the government is when it talks about public interest review. We saw an example of that last week with Terasen. Here is a case where a key public utility in British Columbia is being acquired by a George Bush bagman. Investment Canada should have been doing the due diligence on that, do a public interest review on the acquisition. At a time when the government has done nothing about softwood, very clearly, this is an area where we would have some leverage with the Bush administration.

What happened? The Investment Act in theory allows for that due diligence. It allows for public hearings because thousands of British Columbians expressed real concern about this acquisition and were opposed to it. The environmental and safety record for Kinder Morgan is appalling, in some cases involving deaths, environmental fines and repeated safety violations and environmental violations. The government simply refused to look at the public interest, refused to listen to British Columbians, and simply refused to do its work.

Yes, the amendments call for some provision for a public interest review process for mergers and acquisitions in the transportation sector. However, given the lack of due diligence overall of the government, it is very clear to us that regardless of whether or not there was some framework put into place, the government refined a rubber-stamp process that would override the public interest. So we have some skepticism about that.

Finally, I am very dismayed to see the lack of attention paid to people with disabilities in the amendments in Bill C-44.

We have a transportation infrastructure that is going backwards. The Council of Canadians with Disabilities have left the Ministry of Transport's advisory board in complete frustration because the government has done nothing to enhance accessibility in air transport and rail transport. We are moving backwards when other countries are moving forwards. It is a national shame that the government has done nothing about that.

This is another area where we would be attacking this issue in committee had the government not chosen to sit on this legislation for 10 months. We would be supporting this referral to committee. We would be bringing forward, as is our role in this Parliament, intelligent and effective ways of improving the bill. However, the government has sat on this for 10 months. Also, there is a non-confidence vote tonight.

We know that we will have to look at this in the next Parliament and that is shameful because it did not have to be this way. The government should have acted last month.

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1:40 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his very helpful intervention in the debate on Bill C-44. I think he made some very important points. In particular, I was impressed with the point he made about effective agencies that enforce consumer legislation but enforce concerns about takeovers and amalgamations of airline companies, about advertising of airlines and those kinds of things, and how he linked that to our concern about Investment Canada and other agencies of the federal government that do not seem to do the job that they are set up to do.

We have seen how the Terasen deal that he mentioned has been solidly opposed by British Columbians who are concerned about what it means for an important natural resource, what it means for a company that was a public company in British Columbia for many years. It is so important, especially when we look at the fact that Terasen has an interest in water systems in some of our major cities.

We have seen 8,000 people in British Columbia file complaints with the B.C. Utilities Commission that decided that public hearings were not necessary. That is another example of a completely ineffective government agency that does not do its job and does not meet the concerns of citizens, so I am very glad that he raised that in conjunction with the bill.

I am also glad that he raised the situation of Canadians with disabilities because I know that it is something that he has worked hard on in Parliament but also before he was elected to Parliament. I wonder if he might just expand a little more on the concerns that Canadians with disabilities have about our transportation systems and how the bill does nothing to address those concerns.

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1:40 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his comments around Terasen and the government's woeful neglect of due diligence, public process, and responding to the public need in the Terasen sell out. It is not just Terasen. Going beyond that, we have seen 11,000 takeovers of Canadian companies since the government came to power, each one of them rubber stamped.

There were 11,000 rubber stamps. In no case was there due diligence or public hearings around this process, not a single time. It is a fire sale. The sell out of Canada is beyond precedence. When Terasen came up, British Columbians very clearly expressed the view that they had serious concerns about the environmental and safety record of Kinder Morgan, serious concerns about a Bush bagman, who was formally with Enron, purchasing the company, and serious concerns about rate increases and the government just rubber stamping it for the 11,001 time. It is absolutely appalling.

The hon. member's question around disabilities and the concern in the disability community about the lessened access to transportation is a very good question.

Here we have a situation where people with disabilities in the year 2005 have less accessibility than they did in 1997 or 1996. We are moving backwards and that is what is so appalling about this. One would have thought that in Bill C-44 the government would have addressed those serious concerns that are well known. The Council of Canadians with Disabilities has a great reputation and is a well reputed organization that has expressed those concerns directly to this Parliament, as well as to the Minister of Transport. Yet, the government did absolutely nothing to address these concerns. However, at the rate the Liberals are going, they may throw out something, maybe a press release, before the non-confidence vote tonight just to say that they have dealt with it.

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1:45 p.m.

Conservative

James Moore Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster has a lot of complaints about the bill, but he has not made it clear whether the New Democrats will actually be voting in favour of or opposed to the bill. If he can make that clear, it would be much appreciated by the House.

I was not planning on asking a question, but for a New Democrat from British Columbia to get up in the House to lecture any political party on either transportation policy or fiscal and economic policy is laughable.

When the New Democratic Party was in power in British Columbia for a decade, it took us from the fastest growing province in Canada to a have not province. From being a have province with everything booming and growing, coming out of Expo 86, growing in the late 1980s, growing into the 1990s, what happened in British Columbia? We elected New Democrats and our economy went south, and it went south in a huge way.

We became a have not province. We ended up being on the receiving end of benefits from Ottawa and that was because of New Democratic fiscal and economic policies. New Democrats are in the House and have the gall to lecture any political party in the House on fiscal and economic policy. It is laughable.

Given that we are debating transportation policy, I want to say to the member, who delved into provincial politics for 90% of his speech, that the New Democratic Party, his party, was in power in British Columbia for 10 years. There were only two transportation policies even remotely on the radar screen in British Columbia at that time. One was the Island highway, but because of NDP dropping the ball, bungling, scandal and pathetic management, it caused that highway to be twice as expensive as it would have been, which would have freed up hundreds of millions of dollars for other projects. However, his party failed to do the proper homework in developing that project.

The second transportation project in the entire decade of NDP rule in British Columbia was the fast ferry fiasco, the joke, where over $400 million went to ferries that did not work at all. They were an environmental disaster, a mechanical disaster, and turned out to be a fiscal and economic disaster for taxpayers in British Columbia. That was $400 million that could have gone to substantive policy changes including: the Kicking Horse Canyon and the lives that have been lost there; improvements to the problems with the Sea to Sky Highway; the problems in the northeast sector; rapid transit; and all the things he is talking about. He is great at pointing out all the problems, but when it comes to New Democrats having the opportunity to solve problems, his party failed miserably in British Columbia.

Would the hon. member stand up and explain why his party was so pathetic in government?

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1:45 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

With pleasure, Mr. Speaker. I would be very pleased to address the concerns, but first, if the hon. member had actually listened, I mentioned three times what our position was on the bill and three times I think is enough. He can check the blues if he does not want to listen.

It is funny because the hon. member who just spoke actually sees most of his federal riding now represented provincially by New Democrats. What he is doing now is standing in the House and criticizing the electors of his communities who chose to elect a New Democrat, among the 33 New Democratic Party MLAs who now sit in the B.C. legislature. They chose to make those choices and he is criticizing his own electors. Since he seems to oppose his own electors so vehemently, that may be an inkling of what is to come in the next few weeks, so he should be very prudent about the kinds of things he says in the House.

I should also mention that I understand the Conservatives are kind of fiscally challenged, but the record deficits we have seen in British Columbia come from the Gordon Campbell government. There are record deficits beyond belief in British Columbia. There were balanced budgets handed over to the Gordon Campbell regime and Gordon Campbell has left us with record deficits. There seems to be a contradiction.

If the hon. member is very concerned about deficits, he should be looking at who did the worst job. The balanced budgets of the NDP, which were handed over to Gordon Campbell's government, or the record deficits that we have seen from the B.C. Liberals.

We are seeing with the Olympics now, hundreds of millions of dollars in cost overruns, as he knows very well, that were not raised when the initial Olympic requisition was put forward. Now we are seeing from this management, hundreds of millions of dollars of further funds required.

It is not surprising why the member is fiscally challenged. He knows very well, as we know in this corner of the House, that the Department of Finance has actually analysed fiscal period returns from all major political parties from 1981 to 2001. The worst financial record, based on the actual fiscal period returns of provincial and federal governments, actually belongs to the Liberal Party. It has the worst record of financial management fiscal period returns of any of the political parties in Canada. The second worst record belongs to the Conservative Party administration, federal and provincial.

The best record in financial management, based on the fiscal period returns, and we are not talking about budget, we are talking about fiscal period returns, belongs to the New Democratic Party. It is important for the public to know this. Not only are we good and effective on social programs but we are also the best financial managers in the country.

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November 28th, 2005 / 1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I pre-warned you, this is my last speech in the House of Commons after 17 years and I trust you will not be tough on relevance to the topic at hand.

It was 29 years ago that I first ran for and was elected to municipal council, and 18 years ago that I first entered the House of Commons as a member of Parliament. They have been fabulous years.

I want to thank all my constituents in Ottawa West--Nepean who have placed their confidence in me through five consecutive elections. I also want to thank the hundreds of volunteers and those who have contributed financially to campaigns. Volunteers are the fuel of our democracy. It is not money, but people who help fight elections and win or lose them. These individuals make democracy work at the grassroots.

I want to thank my staff who have worked unbelievably hard hours for an unbelievably difficult boss and for constituents who are not always friendly, as we all know. They have done this with great goodwill and with a determination to do whatever they can to help when it is needed.

I want to thank my family. Nobody in the House is unaware of the fact that our families pay the price when we have the great privilege of serving in this place. They pay it in time away, missed birthday parties and missed Christmases. They miss a normal relationship with a parent, a child, a granddaughter or daughter.

For all of the above, I thanks because serving in this place is a great privilege.

Very few Canadians will ever have the privilege of sitting in this chamber, playing a role in the history of our country and helping shape public policy that creates a country that we will be leaving to coming generations.

When I first walked into the House of Commons as a member of Parliament, I sat in my seat very aware of those who had come before me, those who had helped create a country that is the envy of the world. I was very aware also of my obligations to try to do the same for generations to come, to leave them a better country than I found it.

Parliament is the crucible of the country. Here we hear all the voices of Canada, the east, the west, the north, small communities, large communities, urban communities, rural communities and resource communities. It is here we try to deal with the diversity of our great country and make decisions that will affect all our citizens. It is here that we hopefully resolve differences so we can move forward as a nation.

I have been very privileged to take part in some of the great debates of our time such as the debate on free trade and the debate on how we manage the fiscal policies of the country so we can afford those programs that Canadians want and need.

I have been privileged to see the implementation of the first new national social program in a generation, the national child benefit. I have been privileged to see us address the problems in our health care system and to participate as we tried to address the important environmental issue of climate change. I leave here proud of what I have contributed and proud of the people with whom I have served.

I also leave here with some sadness. In the last 12 years I have not seen one iota of improvement in the representation of women in this chamber. In my view that is one of the greatest democratic deficits we have to address.

I also leave with sadness at the disrepute this place and those who come here to serve have fallen into. I attribute that to repeated criticism and negativity both among us in the House and in the media. It has contributed to an impression that neither this place nor the people who serve here deserve

I have been privileged to work with people from all parties and from all parts of Canada. I know they come here to serve their country and their constituents. They work hard at great personal sacrifice. Members serve with integrity and with honesty. They do not deserve to be tainted with the brush that belongs to a very small number.

If I have one message to leave the House and Canadians, it is that. The people who serve here and this place deserve our respect. When people lose respect for their institutions, in my view democracy itself is at risk.

I call upon all the members who will return to remember that what people think of this place matters. It matters more than the criticisms we might want to launch, and important as they are, they too are a part of democracy. However, let us not do it at the expense of respect for this place and respect for all members as people.

My father chose this country as his adopted country more than 70 years ago. From the time when I was a little girl, I learned how lucky we were to be Canadians. The first morning I walked into the House of Commons through those great big doors and into the Hall of Honour, as a member of Parliament, I thought of my dad. He had died only a few months before that election. I said to myself, “Okay, daddy, so what is the daughter of a lousy immigrant tailor doing in this place?” The fact that I was able to make that journey and sit in this place is a measure of the value of the country and what it stands for.

I thank all members for the privilege of serving with them and the opportunity of serving my country.