House of Commons Hansard #115 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was fisheries.

Topics

Canadian Human Rights Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

The House resumed from February 6 consideration of Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, as reported (with amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Canada Transportation Act
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3:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

If I remember correctly, the hon. member for Eglinton—Lawrence had six minutes left when we last visited this piece of legislation.

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3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, yes, we were talking about Bill C-11, a transportation bill that was born out of much policy development by the former Liberal government. I complimented the current government for having had the wisdom to adopt the bill that preceded this one and was divided into three parts in order to secure speedier passage in the House. We have done that already with one bill. This is the second one. There is a third one coming up.

I know that my colleagues on the transport committee are busy in committee right now. I am not suggesting that they are not here and therefore that it is bad; I am saying that they are involved in the business of the House in another place and it is left to me to carry the load, as it were.

The last time we spoke to this bill, we addressed one aspect of the importance of Bill C-11. What we were looking at really was establishing a mechanism for resolving disputes between public passenger service providers and railway companies. In other words, we were looking for access to rail lines for those commuter companies, especially in main centres like Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, so that they could have an opportunity to develop commuter services on lines that were already existing. They wanted to have access and this legislation provides for their getting that access.

They also wanted to have an appropriate mechanism for arriving at an acceptable market driven and public policy driven price for that access. They were looking for mediation. This legislation provides it, as did its predecessor.

Finally, when rail companies are in the process of divesting themselves of the assets, they would be offered up to the commuter companies on a predetermined basis.

The last time we were discussing this in the House we talked about the importance of this as public policy. It is integrated into the legislation and for that purpose the legislation demands our support. In fact, it should have our support.

There is a series of other important issues here. My colleagues know that if we can pass this legislation expeditiously, we will have seen the fruit of the labour of at least two governments.

The Liberal government, in which I was proud and privileged to serve as a cabinet member, had come forward with transportation policy that reflected the real needs of the day some 24 months ago. There has been a different government for well nigh on 13 or 14 months, and here we are, still here with that same piece of legislation that would have authorized the government to put in place the kinds of things that consumers, the industry and the Canadian public as a whole demanded and which the economy needed to have in order to ensure there would be an efficient, safe transportation network around the country. Whether it involved rail or air was immaterial. The issues were those that required the opportunity for government to intervene to ensure that the efficiency, security and safety of those mechanisms be always there.

Safety is defined of course as all Canadians always define it, that the security and safety of the person always be first and foremost, but it includes as well the security and safety of the movement of goods and services. I know that my colleague from Montreal agrees with me, being a former justice minister who at the time was a consultant on the language of the legislation. I am sure he is pleased to see the realization of the sum of his thoughts.

It is true that we have finally as parliamentarians come forward with something that addresses, as I said, the economy and the consumer.

For members of the House to think about anything other than passing this piece of legislation would be a disservice to the entire Canadian commonweal.

Some members are making suggestions about a series of amendments that ought to take place. We have accepted a good number of those amendments. I say that we have accepted them not because we are presenting the legislation. We originated the legislation, but we are not the ones who have proposed it to the House. We did propose it, and the opposition parties of the day turned it down, especially those on the extreme left of the spectrum. They are on the extreme left of this House too and they have almost disappeared.

Mr. Speaker, I know you will not be offended by that because you are one of the few who has been here longer than I have, and whose hair is greyer than mine, and you are always interested in transportation issues. Those transportation issues are absolutely crucial to the proper functioning and the economy of this country. The infrastructure cannot move along without a good infrastructure in law and that is what this bill is supposed to represent.

We support it. It is not ours, but it comes very close to what we wanted to do. We always want to look out for the interests, safety and security of Canadians and the proper, efficient functioning of an economic infrastructure that would allow us to profit by our own enterprise.

I will take 10 seconds to note that the rail strike by CN has gone on for far too long without government attention. I deplore the fact that the Minister of Transport has not addressed this issue. It cries for government attention, but the government is being inattentive and inactive.

I leave on those very careful words. We hope that the government will become active on and attentive to an issue that is crucial to everybody. I know the hon. member will agree with me when I say that all members on this side of the House, the good guys, want immediate action.

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3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my Liberal colleague's presentation about how much he wants Bill C-11 to be adopted.

I would like to review the history of this bill because it is a nearly word-for-word copy of part of Bill C-44, which was introduced by the Liberals in the previous Parliament.

One of the reasons Bill C-44 never went through, that is, was not adopted before, is that the Liberal Party itself decided to block its own bill. Bill C-44 had a whole section devoted to developing VIA Rail. It wanted to change VIA Rail from a Crown corporation to an independent corporation to enable it to grow. Among other things, the bill promoted VIA Rail's growth and development. VIAFast would have made it possible to build a high-speed train from Quebec City to Montreal and from Montreal to Windsor.

My question is simple: Why is the Liberal Party in such a hurry today? Why was it not in a hurry when it was in power during the previous Parliament?

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3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, the answer is clear. The member need only look in a mirror. The answer can be found in the power of the member who asked the question.

If his party had had the opportunity or wisdom to say that it was a very good bill and that they would support it, we would already have this legislation and the legislation on VIAFast.

However, the Bloc Québécois, their NDP friends and the Conservatives wanted an election rather than legislation that would have given Canadians everything they now want for the citizens of Quebec, Ontario and the rest of Canada.

It is a very simple answer. Had those members accepted what we presented some 15 months ago, we would not be talking about this legislation because we would have already had it implemented. They wanted an election instead. They had it and now this is what we have. They wanted change and they deplore it now.

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3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my Liberal colleague. As he very well knows, the Liberals were divided and the Chrétien team definitely wanted VIAFast and the bill concerning VIA Rail to be passed, while supporters of the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard wanted simply to abandon that part of the bill.

Once again, my hon. colleague's memory fails him. As he very well knows, the Liberal Party itself did not want the VIAFast project to proceed. However, the Bloc Québécois always supported the VIA Rail option and Bill C-44.

I hope my colleague will be able to make the distinction, now that he is transport critic. He need only read past editions of House of Commons Debates to see that it was not the Bloc Québécois that prevented the VIA Rail project from proceeding, rather it was his own party.

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3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is far from the truth. As you know, 18 years ago, I was one of the first members in this House to want a VIAFast system, as it is known today. At the time, the costs were estimated at $2 billion. Just imagine.

He speaks of the Chrétien team project. It was the Liberal team. A feasibility and viability study with a price tag of almost $12 billion was being considered. We were discussing the feasibility of such a cost for a project. The Liberal team had already accepted, in principle, the project establishing a VIAFast system between Quebec City and Windsor.

We are not altering history. I am living it. It is the present. We want Canadians to have access to high speed rail. I am here today to support a good project. It is not the best project, because the best project was the one proposed by the Liberal Party and the Liberal government 16 months ago. Unfortunately, today we must accept the second best, but we have to do it.

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3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. As hon. members could see by the exchange I had with my Liberal colleague earlier, the Bloc Québécois was in favour of Bill C-44, which preceded Bill C-11.

Unfortunately, Bill C-44 did not make it through the legislative process because of the infighting within the Liberal family, namely whether VIA Fast would see the light of day or not. The leadership of the Liberal Party changed and VIA Fast did not see the light of day. In the meantime, an entire section of Bill C-44 was devoted to making VIA Rail an independent corporation that would be able to ensure its own development. Today, once again, the railway sector is stagnating.

However, Bill C-44 was divided into a number of bills, including Bill C-11, which is now before us. Since the beginning, the Bloc Québécois has been very interested in the development of this bill for the simple reason that it includes several sections—I am not saying they are big sections, just that they are very important—on the problems that some of the population might experience, the noise problem in the rail road sector, among others.

The purpose of Bill C-11 is to help all citizens, all Quebeckers, who are experiencing problems with noise. There are some major problems with noise, such as the noise generated by the big railroad yards, the Moreau yard in Hochelaga, the Joffre yard in Lévis—Bellechasse, formerly Charny, the Farnham yard in Brome—Missisquoi and the Pointe-Saint-Charles yard in Jeanne-Le Ber in Montreal's east end.

With the new technology, jobs have been lost. Employees have simply been replaced by remote controlled technology. This causes an infernal noise when the cars are being connected to the locomotives or to other cars.

With the arrival of this technology, in the 1990s, jobs were cut to save money. What was once done by hand, more intelligently and less noisily, was replaced by technology, and no one has yet found a solution to the problem of remote linking. It takes a lot of momentum to join cars together. People living near marshalling yards have to put up with a terrific amount of noise, not to mention locomotives running practically day and night, even during cold weather.

All this causes problems for the people living near marshalling yards, in addition to all the other noise and vibration problems.

I would like to read clause 95.1 of the bill:

When constructing or operating a railway, a railway company must cause as little noise and vibration as possible—

Previously, the bill mentioned noise only, and the Bloc Québécois worked very hard to have the word “vibration” included. Now, the bill requires that companies cause as little noise and vibration as possible. We hope that the bill will be adopted.

I will continue to read from clause 95.1:

—taking into account

(a) its obligations under sections 113 and 114, if applicable;

(b) its operational requirements;

(c) the area where the construction or operation takes place; and

(d) the potential impact on persons residing in properties adjacent to the railway.

The bill amends the act by adding provisions that state that companies operating a railway must cause as little noise and vibration as possible and must take into account the impact on persons residing in properties adjacent to the railway.

For the first time, the Transportation Act is being amended to enable the agency, under clause 95.2, to issue and publish guidelines and receive complaints. This was not allowed previously. Courts ruled that even though the Transportation Agency had wanted to get involved in the complaint process, it did not have the authority to do so. In one case in Ontario, the courts told the agency that it did not have the authority to intervene and that even though it issued recommendations and acted as a mediator, it could not force the company to comply with those recommendations.

That is where the law stood. Obviously this prompted a lot of people who objected to join together and organize to express their opposition. When they became aware of the judgment of the Ontario court, they decided that there was no point and they were spending their money for nothing.

All of these communities got together and wanted to challenge this, and tried to get the railway companies to change, in particular, as I said earlier, the Moreau switching yard, the Joffre yard in Lévis—Bellechasse, the Farnham yard in the riding of Brome—Missisquoi and the Pointe-Saint-Charles yard in the riding of Jeanne-Le Ber.

The people who live near those yards decided to step back and try to reach an amicable agreement. All the Transportation Agency did was arrange a meeting. They met with representatives of the railway companies. The citizens' groups tried to explain their problems to the companies, and in some cases, some of the companies adopted some solutions.

However, when it came to noise, when the noise was a problem for people, the companies came up with all sorts of reasons. When it cost the company a bit too much, they did nothing. And if they were presented with good recommendations, they did not apply them or did not follow them, even though, in some cases, agreements had been made between the company and the citizens' groups.

I myself have met with members of the public, with citizens' groups, and even with representatives of the company, in particular in Hochelaga, the riding next to the Moreau yard. Even though we showed good faith, when we took part in that meeting—my colleague from Hochelaga was there—nothing came of it.

In any event, before the railway company representatives left the meeting, they said that the complaints merited consideration, but they never adopted any solution after that.

This is what people want and what this bill provides that is new: that from now on, the Transportation Agency can receive complaints and make and publish recommendations, and compel the companies to abide by them.

Obviously, it must be understood that we would have wanted more from this bill. It refers only to noise and vibration; it says nothing at all about environmental damage or the other requests that a number of my colleagues had made to me. Even though the railway companies make huge profits, they are not always inclined to comply with environmental standards, to pick up their garbage or what have you. As well, when they lay new tracks, they often leave all the wood lying there all along the rail line. They are in no hurry to clean up.

We were very aware of that and we wanted to propose some amendments. Yet the government went ahead and tabled its noise bill. Since we are on the subject today, we have to be very careful when we propose amendments: amendments that change the spirit of the bill are not allowed. As such, our amendments were automatically dismissed by the legislator or counsel representing legislative services here in Parliament.

Our colleagues submitted good changes and good amendments that they would have liked to have seen reflected in the act, but their amendments were found to be unacceptable by counsel for the legislators here in Parliament.

It is not that we did not try; it is that the law did not let us. Clearly, the government only wanted to address noise. Consequently, we could not move on other problem areas. We managed to include vibrations because they can be considered a noise problem.

As to the other interesting and intelligent amendments proposed by members of the Bloc Québécois and others, we could not move them through; the legislator found them to be unacceptable because they would have altered the spirit of the bill.

This bill includes other provisions concerning air travel complaints. There is to be a complaints commissioner who will address these issues directly.

As I am sure hon. members are all too aware, there have been a lot of complaints about Air Canada. So the complaints commissioner's office will also include a section to address complaints from citizens who were not served in their official language when using Air Canada services or who have experienced other problems related to airlines.

This will make it easier to file a complaint, and, once again, the office of the commissioner will have the power to intervene. We hope that this bill will be adopted swiftly.

Canada Transportation Act
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3:45 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the comments by my colleague, the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, and do not disagree with many of the remarks he made. I know that he was an active participant in the construct of this bill.

I also agree with him when he says that our rail system is stagnating. I know he is aware that we in the NDP have been aggressively trying to champion the state of our national rail system. Many of us believe that we should be making a conscious effort to get the freight off trucks and back on the rails where it belongs.

In fact, I have heard you, Mr. Speaker, make that very point in this chamber many times over the years.

My colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster put forward some amendments to this bill, which I think were seconded by my colleague from Western Arctic. I am hoping that the Bloc can see fit to support these amendments when it comes time to vote. Specifically, they are Motions Nos. 2 and 5 and Motions Nos. 3 and 11. We are optimistic that we can count on the Bloc's support.

On the issue of noise, let me simply say that my riding of Winnipeg Centre is bordered by a significant rail yard where the hostlers are constantly putting trains together. I am well aware of how residents feel about the noise in the night as the hostlers couple the trains. Sometimes prairie trains are 200 and 300 cars long. A significant amount of that goes on.

However, that inconvenience is offset by the enthusiastic support that we as Winnipeggers feel for our national rail system. We lament and in fact we terribly regret and even criticize how the rail system in Canada has been dismantled systematically by years of neglect. It has been dismantled by successive federal governments that are not in favour of a national rail system and prefer to put the freight on the road, much to the expense of the environment, jobs and everything else that goes with it.

Having said that, I hope we can count on my colleague's support for the motions that the NDP did succeed in putting forward to amend Bill C-11. Perhaps he can give us that assurance today.

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3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will answer the first part of his question.

With regard to rail transportation, I hope that my colleague realizes that there is another staunch supporter of the railway system, the Bloc Québécois. I agree with him insofar as the rest of Canada is concerned, but in Quebec, the Bloc Québécois defends the railway system.

From the very beginning, when Minister Collenette tabled the bill—a bill pertaining to VIAFast and a high-speed train between Quebec City and Montreal and Montreal and Windsor—the Bloc Québécois has been in favour of the project. That is why we are supporting this bill today.

The New Democratic Party has tabled motions to amend or remove, among other things, clause 3 of the bill, which states that the Transportation Agency shall have five members. There were seven and that number has been reduced to five. The witnesses heard by the committee clearly showed that it was possible.

First, the agency has been working with five members for two years for various reasons, including the fact that other members were not replaced and budget constraints. We feel that it has been proven that the Transportation Agency can deal with the number of files it has with five members.

I regret that I must say that we cannot support them in that regard. We can understand the government's budget constraints. We can work with the government as long as the budget constraints are reasonable. In this case, we thought that reducing the number of members of the Transportation Agency from seven to five was reasonable. Obviously we will be voting against the NDP amendments.

I am also aware of the last part of the question posed by my hon. colleague, concerning problems facing the railway sector. Yes, there are some safety problems. Yes, trains are now too long. This bill probably should have had some provisions in that regard. Trains are now so long that, in certain areas of the country—including Quebec—it is difficult for firefighters and paramedics to ensure the safety of citizens because roadways are so obstructed that emergency service vehicles cannot get through. This could not be included in this bill because the government had not listed it and thus it would have changed the nature of the bill.

This issue was covered in the amendments proposed by my Bloc Québécois colleagues. Yes, we would have liked to ensure that emergency services were able to travel more freely. We would have also liked to be able to limit the length of trains. We must force the government to introduce another piece of legislation or introduce private members' bills, which we could try to have adopted here in the House. Nonetheless, the amendments we proposed would have changed the nature of the bill and therefore were ruled out of order. Thus, it was not for lack of trying.

I understand my hon. colleague's problems. Things are going so well in the rail sector. As I said earlier, they are making plenty of money. We do not understand why they have not resolved the noise problem. Nevertheless, we will have to address the issue of long trains some day, because they are creating problems in certain areas of Quebec.

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3:55 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Is the House ready for the question?

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3:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

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3:55 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

The question is on Motion No. 1. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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3:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.