House of Commons Hansard #120 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.

Topics

Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca
Alberta

Conservative

Brian Jean Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to comment on improvements to Bill C-11 that have been made by the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. Before I do so, I would like to remind members that Bill C-11 is actually the second of three bills on amendments to the Canada Transportation Act that are legislative priorities for this government. Indeed, it is great news for the country and great news for the people who use the transportation systems, which is all Canadians.

With respect to the first bill, the International Bridges and Tunnels Act, clause by clause study was completed by the Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications on December 12, 2006.

The third bill will address the rail shipper protection provisions of the act. I can assure the House and all Canadians that the government has this particular bill foremost on its mind. We are taking action on it and we expect to see it before the House in the coming weeks.

The Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities heard testimony from a wide range of witnesses and received a number of briefs in relation to Bill C-11. In addition to the Minister of Transport and the officials from Transport Canada, witnesses included representatives from the Canadian Transportation Agency, the Air Transport Association of Canada, the Travellers' Protection Initiative, many citizens groups concerned especially about railway noise, commuter railway operators, the Railway Association of Canada, Canadian National Railway, Transport 2000, Teamsters Canada, and the Farmer Rail Car Coalition.

Yes, this government listens to stakeholders and we listened to many of them. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the committee members for taking the time to hear from those witnesses and for conducting a thorough review of the bill.

The vast majority of witnesses were very positive and supportive of the bill and all were seeking quick passage. This is not surprising, since the sorts of changes being proposed had been debated since the year 2000 by the previous government and quite frankly, nothing was done. A reasonable consensus had been reached on most of those items since that time and it took the current Prime Minister to push the agenda through.

Although there was broad support for passage of the bill, many witnesses requested that some improvements be made and we made many of them. A number of the changes that will benefit the users of the transportation system, urban transit providers, communities and carriers were made. I want to summarize those for the House to clarify any misconceptions that may currently exist.

The act contains a statement on the national transportation policy that is being updated and simplified by Bill C-11. This policy provides general direction in the development of programs, regulations, investments and specific policies. It also provides general direction to the Canadian Transportation Agency and the courts in interpreting the act, which is so important.

These recommendations from the committee will improve the references to safety, security and sustainable environment while streamlining and updating the policy statement. Safety, security and a sustainable environment, which are so important to Canadians, are part of this government's agenda.

Bill C-11 ensures the Canadian Transportation Agency has the proper legal authority to provide mediation services to interested parties such as shippers and railways. The agency has had good results under a pilot project that was actually undertaken on this alternative dispute resolution approach and there is strong support for this provision.

The committee has actually made other changes, including reducing the proposed time frame for mediation from 60 days to 30 days, in order to make it a more effective and quicker tool for those people who need it. The committee's changes would also permit interested parties to use the agency in commercial dispute resolution processes, including both mediation and arbitration. This is something new and we think it will be quite effective.

Some stakeholders have indicated that they would like access to the agency's expertise, even under commercial processes. The improvements will enable stakeholders to address conflicts voluntarily and in a less confrontational manner, which will in many cases get better results.

The current Canada Transportation Act requires the Minister of Transport to table annual reports on the state of transportation in the country. Toward a more effective government, we actually propose that there be additional changes. Instead of a proposal from the department which stated that it would have to be every three years, the changes put forward by committee, which I think are quite positive in this case, are to table annual reports, but they would be less detailed and more focused on an overview of the system's performance, including trends over the past number of years.

In addition, the committee recommended that a more comprehensive report, one that is actually much more detailed, be tabled every five years. Transport Canada will, however, continue to make existing detailed information available on its website. A lot of data that is accumulated on a daily basis and updated on a weekly basis will allow stakeholders who wish to do their own analysis to go on the website and do so.

The Canada Transportation Act permits the minister as well to undertake a public interest review of significant mergers or acquisitions in the airline industry to ensure that the government and future governments and the minister will know what is going on with the large conglomerates that actually employee many Canadians and have such a direct impact on our economy. This review complements the review of competition issues conducted by the Commissioner of Competitions. Bill C-11 would extend this provision to cover all modes.

One of the first steps would be a decision by the minister that the proposed transition raises issues that warrant a public review. The bill provides for the minister to issue guidelines related to this review. Amendments approved by the committee would require the minister to consult with the Competition Bureau in developing guidelines and to include the factors that would be taken into consideration when determining whether a public interest review should be conducted.

The committee approved a number of important changes related to airline service in Canada as well. One change, for instance, would require the Canadian Transportation Agency to report on the complaints it receives in carrying out its air travel complaints functions, including the number and nature of the complaints, the carriers against which the complaints were made, how the complaints were addressed and systematic trends in the industry as far as the complaint process is concerned. This information would actually be included in the agency's annual report.

I should note as well that the agency already publishes information regarding many important airline consumer issues in its annual report and on its website. These changes would be improvements to an already open and transparent reporting process.

Bill C-11 contains a provision that would give the agency the authority to develop regulations on air fare advertising; yes, that is right, air fare advertising. Many consumer groups and consumers in Canada have looked forward to this provision. The amendment made by the committee would oblige the agency to make regulations on air fare advertising following the passage of this bill. Truth in advertising, in essence, is what we heard from many groups.

Bill C-11 contains a provision that would allow the agency to resolve disputes on railway noise as well. This would be the case if the railway and complainant could not resolve their dispute through voluntary measures. This provision has attracted considerable interest. A lot of discussion took place by committee members and indeed by many of the witnesses, including groups from Quebec and British Columbia.

The committee made a number of amendments to the noise provisions which, it is hoped, will improve the co-existence of communities and railways. This country for the most part was established and has been kept together by rail. Rail is a very important part of our community and our country, but at the same time it has to coexist with the communities around the railways. We tried to find that balance in the legislation.

First, the committee added something new, vibrations, which was a common complaint, as a matter that would be subject to the provision. Vibrations will be considered in the act.

Second, the committee changed the standard to which the railways would be held. Bill C-11 would have required, as it was in its original form, “to not cause unreasonable noise”, when constructing or operating a railway. We did something different and we are very proud of this provision. We changed it to “cause as little noise or vibration as possible”. This is very important because it will maintain less noise for those people who live in those areas. It is very, very important to them. We were listening. This government does listen and it reacts in the best interests of Canadians.

Finally, the committee's amendments would add the potential impact on persons residing on properties adjacent to the railway as a factor that a railway must take into consideration when it attempts to cause as little noise or vibration as possible.

In closing, I would like to thank the committee members for their due diligence, hard work and cooperation in improving this bill. We have a great bill before Parliament now as a result.

I would encourage the House to move quickly to approve the bill. There is a lot of support for this bill in commercial and residential areas across this country and a lot of people are watching this today to see that cooperation move forward.

We owe it to many stakeholders who have waited patiently for the last five years especially. I thank them for their patience. I hope we can move forward with another great initiative from the committee.

Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. parliamentary secretary for his intervention, most especially because he has reminded all of us that we have been very patient.

I am looking for a confession of the road to Damascus variety on his part. Perhaps he could give us an indication as to why it took him and his party this long to recognize that the predecessor bill to this legislation presented by the former government, that would be a good Liberal government, was one that he and his party felt they had to vote against in the 37th Parliament and had to vote against in the 38th Parliament. Now he comes with open palms to say, “Please recognize the value of your ways and support us now in this endeavour when we have finally discovered that good legislation ought to transcend partisan politics”.

Would he explain to us what deviant road to Damascus he and his party had to travel in order to recognize that this is a piece of legislation that the Liberal Party put forward because it met the needs of Canadians five years ago?

Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Indeed, Mr. Speaker, there was a blinding light on the road to Damascus. It was more like a blinding light of Conservative government because the people spoke and they got what they wanted. They got a Conservative government that was going to take action.

Let us talk about Bill C-44, the predecessor to this bill, and I think there was another bill before that, but not another one before that one, yet it would not surprise me if there was another one before that. That bill was far too cumbersome, something that just could not work because we could not find consistency.

This is the situation. This Conservative government wanted results, so we split the existing Liberal bill into three bills. So far in eight months we have gotten two of those bills to this point. One bill passed, Bill C-3, another bill is before us today, Bill C-11, and another bill is coming forward in two weeks with some cooperation from members on the other side, as long as they can see and are not be blinded by the Conservative light. It will move forward and we will get results for Canadians.

Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a comment before putting my question.

The parliamentary secretary is well aware of the reason why the previous bill, under the Liberal Party, was not passed. In his reply, he said he split former Bill C-44 into three parts. However, he should have split it into four parts, because there is a whole part that the Conservative Party decided not to include, and which provided for the establishment of a new corporation. It would have allowed VIA Rail to become a corporation to ensure its own development. Among other things, it would have allowed VIAFast, a rapid rail service between Quebec City, Montreal and Windsor, to become reality. Everyone knows that the Conservative Party is squarely opposed to VIA Rail's development. That is the reality.

However, this is not about what should have happened, or what we would have liked to see, but about passing Bill C-11.

We talked about noise and complaints. As soon as the bill is passed, many complaints will likely be lodged, because citizens, communities and citizens' groups have been waiting for a long time to see the Canadian Transportation Agency have these powers.

Can the parliamentary secretary guarantee that the transportation agency will have all the necessary staff to deal with the complaints filed by citizens or citizens' groups against noise and vibrations?

Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, indeed the member has raised a very important issue, but I can assure him, as he has seen over the past 12 months, this government takes action and gets things done.

Some of my Quebec colleagues approached me before the issue of noise vibration arose. They were wondering whether we could hear specific witnesses, for instance, from Lévis and different places in Quebec. We made way for those witnesses. We accommodated them and we got results in this particular piece of legislation.

It is like everything that this government does. There is positive interaction and cooperation from the other sides to get results for Canadians. We will make sure we have enough people to do what is necessary in this particular case, because we get results. We will continue to get results for people from Quebec and right across the country, from British Columbia to Atlantic Canada.

Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

February 28th, 2007 / 3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know that the opposition side, now dressed as government, is waiting to hear this speech with bated breath, most of it after much libation has passed through the lips.

Without casting too many aspersions on this, one has to be in control of one's senses when one listens to some of the rhetoric of the government side. I wondered why those members would not take just a moment to say that they have a responsibility as parliamentarians to come forward with legislation that is good for all Canadians. It was there and we are going to try to implement it, they could say, even though for partisan reasons they said no in the past. They said they were not going to support Bill C-44.

But in a stroke of blinding light, of genius, let us divide it up, those members said. They came to this side and asked for our support. We said why not, it is in our collective interest to ensure that legislation that helps Canadians is put forward.

I am not going to reread into the record that which the parliamentary secretary has thought useful for his party's business to talk about what is in the bill. I gave an indication earlier on that there are several things that are important about this bill and that attracted a positive reaction from us.

One of them, of course, is in regard to railway lines that are no longer used, that are declared underused by the railway companies, in that commuter agencies in the various centres through which they pass would have access to them for the purposes of developing appropriate commuter traffic. This would allow us as governments, whether it is this Parliament or the provincial legislatures or the municipalities, to develop a transportation policy for commuters in order to address the environmental, economic, transportation and consumer issues that are evident for everyone.

To do that, we have to put an infrastructure in place that would allow the minister to play a proactive role. That is what Bill C-44 intended to do. The government opposite fought that with every breath it could muster. Today the Conservatives want to put themselves in the clothes of shining bright knights who would accomplish the solutions that would satisfy all Canadians' aspirations and needs.

The truth is the opposite. The government has been asking for and receiving the support of the opposition parties. I see my colleague from the Bloc way down at the end to my left--I can say he is here, I do not have to say he is not here, as that would be for those people--and he has been patient. He has offered the same kind of support that we have offered, because in this instance, at least, he too is thinking about the commonweal.

While we have been doing this, we have watched as the Minister of Transport has ignored the larger implications that were resident in Bill C-44. The underlying principles are as follows: do what is good for the economy of the country, do what is important for the infrastructure and transportation policies of this country, and take into consideration the economic impacts of transportation policies, especially, in this instance, on rail traffic.

What did the government do? We found the minister preferred to do nothing with the cooperation the opposition parties have been offering. So what happened? With Canadian National Railway, he allowed a work stoppage, a strike, to go on for ever so long. I am sure my colleague down at the other end has received the same kinds of submissions that I have from all interested parties and communities across Canada. Whether they were in the lumber industry, the mining industry, the wheat, grain and oilseeds industries, the commercial products industries or even, as we now know, the petrochemical and gasoline industries, we had no movement of goods.

There was no movement of goods while the minister's parliamentary secretary and his government stood and said, “Oh my. Aren't we wonderful? We're just like Jack Horner sitting in a corner. We're just marvellous people”.

Meanwhile, there are communities everywhere around the country, especially those one-industry towns, those in northern Ontario, northern Quebec and northern British Columbia, to name just three places, that are completely, totally and undeniably dependent on rail traffic to get their goods to market, to keep the mills open and to keep the mines going. All them were crying for some intervention while two unions, local and international, with CN, played with the economic life of all Canadians and the minister sat there and did nothing.

That government did nothing and then turned around and told us that it was doing all kinds of great things. Look at us, said the Conservatives, we have been here for 13 months and look at all that we have accomplished.

We have asked for the cooperation of the opposition parties, they said, and look at what we in the opposition did: we gave it. We split up a bill, Bill C-44. One aspect of that has been passed. A second one is here before us today. There is a third one down the road. We have been trying to move this along really quickly.

The debate on this should have finished last week, but no, we had the minister for hot air insulting one of my colleagues, the member for Mississauga South, I think, who was here a moment ago. He is moving around the table now. Instead of carrying on with discussions of substance, that minister for hot air wanted to engage in discussions of disruption, and so the bill goes on a little while longer. Instead of capitalizing on the opportunities to build on the cooperative spirit that was here in the House, on this side of the House, with respect to transportation, particularly with this bill and particularly with movement of traffic around the country, while communities everywhere were crying for our help, he did nothing. The Conservatives did nothing. Not only did they dither, but they did nothing.

Let us look at the ports, for example. The ports in the lower mainland in British Columbia were crying for some sort of intervention. No, I am sorry, that would have been too much to ask for. They were looking for some kind of attention and interest on the part of the Minister of Transport to get some things moving. They had to lay off all the personnel, or portions thereof, at the ports. They had boats sitting out in the harbour; others still more. Trains were backed up. Wheat, lumber and minerals were being held up out in the west. Markets out in the Orient and in the States were looking for some kind of product and some kind of interest on the part of the Government of Canada to get that product going. There was nothing.

The Minister of Transport said:

My name is Pontius. I wash my hands.

It was a labour issue, he said.

The Minister of Labour came before our colleagues and asked us if would we help him out and support back to work legislation if it became a real labour issue. We said of course we would do that, but we asked why the government did not get the infrastructure in place. We asked why the government did not do the minimum that is required of all of us, which is to show interest. It is not a question of partisanship.

So now what we have in southern Ontario, for example, in parts of Quebec, and in fact almost everywhere in the country but particularly in southern Ontario, is a huge shortage of gasoline, because some of it has not been able to get to the market. Yes, there have been other interests as well, and there have been other incidents, but the product could not get to market, and there has been an increase in the price, diminishing our ability to be productive and competitive and obviously bringing all things to a standstill.

I am sure that the minister for hot air on the other side will immediately say let me see now, has there been a diminution in the emissions of greenhouse gases? Yes, that must be so in part, because there is a voluntary participation by all of those drivers who could not get their gasoline and so walked to work in the middle of winter. Great.

I guess I am reduced to a little bit of sarcasm because I sat there, watched, waited and in fact offered all the cooperation that this side of the House could offer the government to say, “Get this done”. But those members were of course interested in heckling, as they are not out of the opposition mentality. They were chuckling, laughing and being as disruptive as they could.

Could we imagine that on this side? No, it would not happen.

I know you will be shocked at this, Mr. Speaker, but there is a member of the transportation committee who comes from the riding of Essex, which is a focal point for all of the manufacturing trade in southern Ontario. The trade goes through that riding into Detroit and on to the other side of the border. Of about $2 billion worth of trade, about two-thirds of it goes through that area. What happens? Instead of being able to deal with his own party in government to get the trains back on track, he has to be fighting his own party.

Competition in parties is a fact of life that we deal with. One always has to worry about whether the enemy is on that side of the House or on this side of the House, but there we had a ridiculous situation. I am looking at a CanWest news story dated February 22 about how the member had to worry about “murder threats” from his own riding executive. There are all kinds of soap operas going on within that party. No wonder those members cannot address the issues of the country. They are too busy trying to take each other out.

Canada Transportation Act
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3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

What are you talking about?

Canada Transportation Act
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3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

What are you talking about, he says to me, and here it is right here. He is pretty short on dates. I cannot read the name because of course that would be inappropriate, but here is the riding of Essex, where the campaign chairman has been charged with--

Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park is rising on a point of order.

Canada Transportation Act
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3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, you know how reluctant I am to interrupt an hon. member when he is speaking, but it seems to me that the tenor of this debate has absolutely nothing to do with the bill that is currently before the House. I would like to call him on relevance.

Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

As the occupant of the chair, I was hesitant to interrupt the volley of oratory from the hon. member. I know that he is much more experienced than I am. He has been here in six Parliaments so far, so he knows also not to mention either the presence or the absence of members. I am sure that he will not do it again, especially during the next seven minutes that he has left.

Canada Transportation Act
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3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am flattered that you were actually listening so attentively to what I was saying.

I was trying to address what I think is a perfect set of circumstances. We have an opposition party that had presented legislation and given an indication of how to actually get things done, and an opposition party, now government party, that is looking for that kind of cooperation. We have a perfect opportunity to apply that cooperative spirit. But what happens? Nothing happens.

Our trade is going down. Lumber mills are closing. Remote communities in Canada find themselves even more isolated. Jobs are being lost. We are losing market share. All of these things are happening. Why? It is because, as I pointed out, of what is represented in the press about a situation within their own party that is preventing the Conservatives from being productive here in the House. They are saying it is a drive-by smear. I imagine members would like me to read all of this, but I will just refer them to the articles. They can be found in CanWest News Service and the Windsor Star on February 22 and February 3 respectively.

Those members will have an opportunity to be able to see the impediment. The public watching this is probably wondering what is so significant that is preventing the government from doing what it needs to do. Why would the government not take advantage of an opportunity to demonstrate that it is actually a proactive government and become involved in one of the most critical situations facing the nation today?

The government waited until the workers themselves started to go back. They went back for their own internal union reasons, not because the Government of Canada was interested in what was happening to communities everywhere.

The forest product sector pleaded with every member of Parliament on the Hill. It looked for members who were willing to listen to its pleas and get involved in this litigation so that products could move. Nobody could be found to listen except for the Minister of Labour, not the Minister of Transport . The sector could not get a response.

It is up to us to raise these issues. The Minister of Transport is the same individual who, on a W5 production some one month ago, turned a deaf ear to the issues of safety that are being represented right here in Bill C-11.

We wanted to give the Minister of Transport the authority to be involved in safety and security issues as they relate to all transportation modes, most especially in the railway industry, and especially because the railway industry wanted the government involved. What did we get? We received a shrug of the shoulders from the Minister of Transport.

The former government had launched an inquiry into the safety procedures of railways. The report came down. Everybody waited with bated breath to tell us what was wrong and what measures were being taken to resolve them. We had already put in place Bill C-44 to address some of those issues.

The Conservative government has been in place for 13 months with the benefit of all of the initiatives of the previous government. What did it do? It did nothing. The minister shrugged his shoulders on national television and said he could not even release the report. Everybody must have been asking why not? Does he not have an interest in transportation issues in the country? Is he not interested in the safety of passengers and the value of the commercial product that is being moved from one end of the country to the other? He said he could not because it mentioned a third party. Imagine a minister of the Crown saying he could not.

The minister is asking for enabling legislation right here. We are giving him all the authority he needs. Why can he not tell us what was wrong with those trains? There is a public inquiry. Does the public not have the right to know? He said he could not. I think he did not want to. Why not? That is a good question.

I met with people from CN. I met with people from the railway industry. I met people from the other transportation modes, but I especially met with the people from CN and asked whether they had an objection to that report being published.

Does anyone know what the answer was? It was, “No, we only wanted to be consulted on the first draft of the report and your former colleague in cabinet, Mr. Member of Parliament from Eglinton—Lawrence, the minister of transport, asked us for input. We gave him the input and out came the final report. You are no longer in government, so where is the report? Why is it not public? Why can't we know as Canadians, whether we are commercial users or personal users of our transportation system, and why can't we know what that public report tells us about how we can move our products and persons safely around this country from point A to point B?”

When the government members applaud themselves, I do not know how they do not get cricks in their shoulders. It must be tough to do this and smile at the same time, instead of giving credit where credit is due to the people who worked diligently to put forward legislation and initiatives that were designed for the benefit of Canadians everywhere, especially in the remote communities of this country, to keep it whole, to keep it solid and to keep it united.

The government should have taken at least one moment to recognize that it has an obligation to the Canadian public and that it should discharge that obligation rather than do nothing. That is the shame in all of this. The government is squandering our cooperative attitudes.

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3:55 p.m.

Jonquière—Alma
Québec

Conservative

Jean-Pierre Blackburn Minister of Labour and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec

Mr. Speaker, I just listened to the hon. member for Eglinton—Lawrence. He is going from one situation to another. At one point he was talking about the Canada Transportation Act, which we are going to amend, and then he started talking about the labour dispute at CN over the last few days.

I do not think that the hon. member is drawing the right connections. The recent labour dispute at CN resulted in the Department of Labour and I myself as the minister taking action to appoint mediators so that the two parties could arrive at a negotiated settlement. As the labour minister, I had certain decisions to make in order to bring the dispute to an end and ensure that Canadians get the service they deserve.

When companies no longer have the raw materials they need to continue production; when remote communities are no longer receiving the food and fuel they need to stay safe and maintain their quality of life; when companies are closing, like the potash mines in Saskatchewan and other similar situations; and when the forest sector is dying, the Minister of Labour has responsibilities he must carry out.

The hon. member must know that we are a minority government and need opposition support in order to pass back-to-work legislation, as we did last Friday morning.

It was not until just a few minutes before our back-to-work bill was to be introduced that one of the opposition members told us the Liberal Party would support it.

The hon. member was saying he played a role. Could he please tell me what exactly he did to end the dispute? I would like to hear what he has to say.

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4 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the minister for his decision. Clearly, he took an interest in the situation, and I was surprised. I have known him a long time. He was in government when I was in opposition a few years ago. I know that he wanted to do something positive.

He says that he was waiting for the opposition—in this case, the Liberal Party—to support him so that he could resolve the situation. Because of what he said, he got the response he was looking for.

I did not say anything against him, because he acted appropriately. I was talking about transportation infrastructure. The Minister of Transport did not act as I would have liked, as the public would have liked, as the Minister of Labour acted. He asked for and received support. He took action and the situation was resolved. Someone who is willing to cooperate and asks for cooperation will get it.