House of Commons Hansard #104 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was driving.

Topics

Motions in amendment
Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to discuss Motions Nos. 1 to 12 that are on the order paper, some of which come from the government and some of which come from the New Democratic Party.

I should begin by saying that Bill C-11 was supported by all parties. There were some important elements within Bill C-11 that needed to be brought forward. A very healthy process took place throughout the fall. All four parties in the House of Commons worked together to improve the initial legislation that we supported in principle and brought amendments forward that would make this legislation even better. This was done with the cooperation from Conservative members, Liberal members, my colleagues in the Bloc, and myself representing the New Democratic Party.

We worked over the course of a number of weeks to improve this important legislation. We succeeded in a number of different elements. There is no doubt that the bill coming back from committee is much better than it was when it came to Parliament. We were able to make important improvements.

I do want to flag a number of areas, particularly the area around representation within the Canadian Transportation Agency. This was brought forward by the New Democratic Party. We thought this was an important element to change as we were endeavouring to modernize the Canada Transportation Act. We wanted to make the kind of changes that would help to address some shortfalls and deficiencies within our transportation system.

A number of components of Bill C-11 do this, but one important component is missing and that is having the best possible people from across this country at the Canadian Transportation Agency. To ensure that the Canadian Transportation Agency is not an Ottawa centric organization, the NDP endeavoured to bring forth an amendment to allow essentially important members of the Canadian Transportation Agency to reside outside the national capital region. There are two important reasons for this.

First, by broadening the pool we can get the best qualified people, regardless of where they live. It is not true that every Canadian wants to live in Ottawa. It is not true that people from British Columbia can simply deny their family ties, uproot their family and move to Ottawa if they want to work in the Canadian Transportation Agency. It is important that we have the broadest possible pool of potential candidates, the best qualified people in the transportation business to ensure that we have the safest transportation sector and transportation elements in the world. Second, and this is perhaps even more important, we want to ensure that those who are appointed to the Canadian Transportation Agency, who will play an important role within our country, actually understand the regional variations.

Over the past few years we have seen an increasing rate of railway accidents. I can cite some of the more well known examples of high profile and tragic railway accidents in places like Wabamun Lake in the Fraser Canyon of British Columbia, Wabamun Lake in Alberta, and Cheakamus River in British Columbia. These are issues of transportation safety and the viability of our transportation system. These are important components of the Canadian Transportation Agency among many other things. We need to ensure that the people who are appointed to these positions actually understand the regional requirements in B.C., the prairies and Atlantic Canada.

We brought forward these amendments simply to allow that broad pool of potential candidates, not shutting out most Canadians who do not come from Ottawa and would prefer not to live here.

Second, is also to have that regional expertise. When we talk about regional issues, whether it is British Columbia or Atlantic Canada, members appointed to the Canadian Transportation Agency would have the regional expertise and could contribute to enhancing our transportation system.

Because the Conservatives refused that very logical and sound approach, what we have before us a requirement in Bill C-11 that members of the Canadian Transportation Agency to reside here. It says, “The members shall reside in the National Capital Region”.

We are essentially centralizing the Canadian Transportation Agency in such a way as to not have that regional expertise and understanding. At the same time, we are narrowing the pool of potential candidates for the Canadian Transportation Agency. It does not make sense.

I do not understand the opposition of the Conservative Party to broaden that mandate to ensure we get the best qualified people wherever they live in the country. In addition, the bonus, particularly coming from western Canada and this should be understood, is we would have a broader understanding of western Canadian transportation issues. It is simply logical. It simply makes sense.

The government refused that amendment. It has put before us instead a requirement that those appointed to the Canadian Transportation Agency “shall reside in the National Capital Region”.

For that reason, the NDP is moving to delete the requirement that individuals appointed to the transportation agency have to live in the national capital region. As a result, we have a number of consequential amendments.

The four motions all deal with this important factor; that the Canadian Transportation Agency should not be limited to those who choose to reside in Ottawa. We should not exclude the vast majority of Canadians who may want to contribute or who may have real talent and real skills to contribute. In addition, we should endeavour to have individuals within the agency that have the regional expertise.

It has often been said that British Columbia is perhaps the most remote of the provinces to Ottawa. We certainly have to fly across the country to get to Ottawa. B.C. members of Parliament are honoured and privileged, particularly the 10 B.C. MPs who represent the NDP, to do that.

I cross the country twice a week. On Sundays, normally, or Monday morning I fly to Ottawa. I fly back on Thursday evening or Friday morning. My family is very understanding, as are the families of the nine other B.C. NDP MPs who represent our province in Ottawa.

It is very clear, and there is no doubt about this, that sacrifices have to be made. Many British Columbians would love to participate and provide their expertise to the transportation agency. Yet they are being told that they cannot do so unless they reside in the national capital region. That is simply unacceptable. That is why we are offering the opportunity for the government to address an important issue, one that it should have allowed in committee.

The government should have simply said that it made sense to provide for the best possible expertise in the country and not limit the pool to only those who would choose to live in Ottawa. It should have said that it would attempt to do the recruitment in such a way that it would have regional expertise, that those individuals in the mountainous areas of British Columbia and the Pacific Ocean with that expertise would be encouraged to be part of the Canadian Transportation Agency.

As we know, the way the bill is currently configured, they do not have that choice. The government has simply said that they do not have that choice, that they have to live in Ottawa. That is unacceptable.

That is the element of the motions the NDP has brought forward. We are essentially supportive of much of the bill.

I would like to mention the work of Brian Allen and the Quayside Community Board in New Westminster, British Columbia. Mr. Allen, as did mayor Wayne Wright, both testified before the committee and provided valuable feedback as well on the issue of railway noise, which is another area of weakness in the bill.

Despite the fact that the bill is less strong on the issue of railway noise, we are hopeful we will see improvements to government policy over the next few months so people in the quay area of New Westminster and in other urban communities can finally get a good night's sleep. Mr. Allen was indispensable in providing support to ensure that the committee did deal with railway noise. Although we are disappointed with the results in that area too, we do have some hope that over the course of the next few months we will see action finally.

We are supportive of Bill C-11 and of many of the amendments that the NDP and other parties brought forward. It was a collaborative effort. There are a couple of weaknesses and we hope they can be addressed at report stage, particularly the area around the Canadian Transportation Agency.

Motions in amendment
Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me acknowledge the good work that my colleagues on the committee have done. I am a new addition to the committee, but not new to the issues of transportation. You and I served on the committee that eventually led to some of the issues we are debating today. I will have more to say about this in a few minutes.

Could the member clarify the urgency of having to ensure that people not necessarily reside here if they are part of a functioning board? Certainly they would bring expertise as well as regional perspective. They would also work to ensure that those regional issues and regional perspective were brought into an environment that would coordinate all the perspectives nationwide, those which should be brought to bear on railway policy to the benefit of all Canadians.

While I am at that, would he clarify for us the understanding on Motion No. 10 in the French version? Perhaps the Bloc might want to do this more than others. He is talking about the amendments that he identified as ones that might be acceptable. There is a change which says:

“estime raisonnables pour faire le moins de bruit ou de”

In his understanding of that amendment, would that lead someone to conclude that less noise is the same thing as absolutely no noise?

Motions in amendment
Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take a moment to congratulate the member for Eglinton—Lawrence for his new position as transportation critic. I look forward to working with him and our other colleagues on the transportation committee. We have had an initial meeting. I look forward to working productively together to advance Canada.

Regarding the member's first point around the issue of the Canadian Transportation Agency and residing in Ottawa, he is right to say that members of the Canadian Transportation Agency need to meet occasionally in Ottawa. Our opposition is not to the occasional meeting in Ottawa, that is an indispensable part of the job.

Our concern is that members are forced to reside in the national capital region, which means two things. First, obviously it reduces the number of applicants for this kind of position. Many Canadians would choose not to live in Ottawa for a variety of reasons, family ties being one of the most important ones. Second, it is difficult to uproot people's immediate families and in a sense have a country dividing them from their larger family, in British Columbia, for example.

Essentially he is right that the meetings should take place. Our argument is that there should be no requirement to live in the national capital region. That would be better for the Canadian Transportation Agency.

Motions in amendment
Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, the comments of the member for Burnaby—New Westminster could be helpful if it were not for the fact that this is simply a rehash of what has already gone on at committee.

As members know, the process that the House follows is that a bill moves through first and second reading and is then referred to committee for a thorough discussion.

At that committee, numerous witnesses from across the country gave input into the bill. The hon. member had an opportunity participate. In fact, I have the transcript from November 23, 2006. The hon. member took part in the discussion regarding the very clauses that he now wishes to delete. What he is conveniently forgetting to tell the public in his comments is the fact that he originally made a motion to increase the number of members from five to six, not to seven, and there was some confusion in committee and our clerk confirmed that.

I also want to highlight the fact that over the last two years the member knows the Canadian Transportation Agency has operated with five members. The focus here is efficiency.

He had also suggested that it was unfortunate that we could not recruit people from across Canada. They were not willing to move to the national capital region. That is already happening with many other governmental organizations. The Supreme Court of Canada, the Federal Court and even the CRTC have a requirement that its members live in the national capital region.

Motions in amendment
Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Order, please. I am sorry, but the time has expired. I let the member go on, but I cannot let him go on and on. I have to give the member a chance to answer.

The hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster.

Motions in amendment
Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative Party has changed its speech.

I can remember a few years ago when the Conservatives would stand up for western Canada, but obviously that has changed. Now they are saying, “Come to Ottawa. We are not going to make any changes”.

The hon. member is well aware that the Canadian Transportation Agency currently has seven people on its statutes. The NDP amendment was to have the chair reside in the national capital region, but the six other members could reside outside the national capital region. There is absolutely no doubt, and the hon. member should know, coming from British Columbia, that, yes, it reduces the pool of applicants for those positions. We cannot simply say to people that they have to uproot their families, leave British Columbia and come to Ottawa because that is the only way they can work for the Canadian Transportation Agency.

The Conservatives, their old party, the Reform Party, used to speak up for western Canada. It is sad that it is no longer the case. Now they speak up for Ottawa.

Motions in amendment
Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am not going to comment on the hon. member's riposte. I will simply continue to focus in on the things that the bill does, the things that we as a committee agreed to do.

The big beneficiaries of Bill C-11 are of course not only those in the transportation industry but Canadians across our great country.

The Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities heard from a wide range of witnesses, as I mentioned earlier. We studied the legislation in detail and considered a wide assortment of amendments from both the government and the opposition parties.

For Canadians, transportation is a vital aspect of daily living. Indeed, railways and ships were critical in building our country. Most of the opposition's proposed amendments were, I believe, put forward in the best spirit of non-partisanship with a view to improving the bill and making better legislation. Very few suggested amendments were posited for the opposite intention.

Perhaps it is best to start from the beginning and review how thorough the committee's analysis of Bill C-11 was.

Every effort was made to study the potential impact of the bill upon all the relevant stakeholders. In addition to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and officials from Transport Canada, witnesses included representatives from the Canadian Transportation Agency, the Air Transport Association of Canada, the Travellers' Protection Initiative, and citizens groups from across Canada. In fact, there were citizens from the riding of Burnaby—New Westminster, whose member spoke up just a few minutes ago.

The large majority of the witnesses supported the bill, or specific provisions of the bill, and encouraged its quick passage. Many witnesses sought improvements to the bill to make it work better. Based on the testimony from witnesses, I am pleased to note that the committee presented and accepted a number of amendments, which I believe strengthened the bill. I thank the committee members for taking the opportunity to hear from witnesses and for their thorough review, due diligence and cooperation in improving the bill.

Let me summarize the main amendments.

First, we addressed transportation policy. Our aim was to simplify and modernize transportation policy in Canada. The policy statement provides broad guidance to the development of transportation policy programs and direction to the Canada Transportation Agency and the courts in resolving disputes.

The amendments to Bill C-11 will strengthen references to safety, security and sustainable transportation and improve the language that pertains to the role that transportation rates and conditions play.

We also believe that reducing the number of permanent members of the Canadian Transportation Agency from seven to five and locating them at national headquarters, instead of across the country, makes good common sense. It saves taxpayers' dollars and it does not rely on unnecessary travel.

In the bill, we also addressed mediation. The committee has shortened from 60 days to 30 days the period in which mediation needs to take place. The purpose of this was a general agreement that transportation in a country as large as ours is a vital component of daily living. Transportation is not only in the national interest; it is often the national interest.

Disputes often have a profoundly negative impact on the lives and jobs of thousands of Canadians who rely on the transportation sector for food, clothing, merchandise and supplies of all kinds. We as a committee believe that it is in the national interest to resolve transportation disputes in a timely manner.

We also addressed the whole issue of reporting, of making sure that the Ministry of Transport reports on a regular basis and in an effective manner. We have proposed that the current annual reporting by the minister on transportation activities be replaced with a major report every five years.

The chief difficulty with data management is not so much its collection but its analysis. The data must be appropriately assessed in order to justify its gathering. Furthermore, it is environmentally responsible to find ways of using less paper and to find alternative ways of disseminating the information through the website.

The requirements for annual reports for transportation were put in place in 1987. Those provisions have never been updated. After some 20 years of experience, it has become very clear to our government that trends in transportation are more easily detected when reports cover longer periods of time. With that in mind, we introduced a five year reporting requirement, and the committee agreed to that.

That said, the committee also amended the bill to maintain the annual reporting requirement, the only change being that in the future the report will provide only a cursory review of the state of the transportation industry, leaving the comprehensive analysis for the more significant five year report.

We also addressed the issue of mergers of different transportation companies. We have existing provisions that relate only to airlines. By changing these and expanding them, we are covering all modes of transportation.

This will require the minister to consult with the Competition Bureau and send a recommendation to the governor in council on whether or not to approve the proposed merger and, if appropriate, what conditions would apply. Again, we believe that this would be in keeping with the best interests of all Canadians. For example, if a merger adversely affects access to transport in a given region of the country, then that is going to be a factor that the minister may want to consider.

Many sectors of the transportation industry are served by a small number of enterprises. Mergers in these sectors may raise issues of regional and national interest that fall beyond the scope of reviews conducted by the Competition Bureau.

A new merger and acquisition review process will cover all transportation undertakings over a certain threshold level of assets and revenues. The process we are proposing will involve, first of all, that applications for mergers would be required to address specific issues set out in review guidelines. If the proposal also raises sufficient public interest issues related to national transportation, the minister could appoint a person to review the proposed transaction. Finally, any proposed merger would result in one government decision, to avoid duplication. Public interest concerns would be addressed by the minister and competition concerns by the Commissioner of Competition.

The amendments to Bill C-11 will also require the minister to publish guidelines on information related to the public interest that must be included in the notice given to the minister by companies proposing a merger. The amendments will also require the minister to consult with the Competition Bureau in developing these guidelines.

We also addressed the whole issue of air complaints: consumers who are using the airlines and have beefs. As we know, many Canadians travel long distances and use air travel to do that. The industry's growth has resulted in an increasing number of complaints.

However, even if complaints are properly addressed by the airlines, it is incumbent upon the industry to keep a record of what these complaints were and how they will be or were addressed. A lesson is learned only if the action taken to rectify the complaint is duly recorded and available for use again.

Therefore, the committee added a requirement that in its annual report the agency must report the number and nature of complaints filed with the agency for each carrier, how the complaints were dealt with, and systemic trends that the agency has observed.

Complaint letters sent to the agency now increasingly relate to matters within the agency's core regulatory functions, such as the reasonableness of the terms and conditions of flights. With the recent implementation of the air travel complaints program, the agency has successfully demonstrated that it can address the need to respond to travellers' complaints, allowing agency staff to continue to respond to complaints in an informal manner. The agency already publishes information regarding many important airline consumer issues in its annual report and on its website.

We also addressed the issue of airfare advertising. The committee added this requirement. Arguably, no other form of transportation contains as many hidden expenses as does air travel. Bill C-11 requires airlines advertising airfares to indicate all fees, charges and surcharges, to allow consumers to readily determine the cost of their flight.

We also addressed railway noise, something that was of great concern to communities across the country. We believe we have introduced complaint mechanisms and mediation processes that will address this.

In short, committees often represent the best of the parliamentary process, whereby members from different political parties work together to improve legislation. That is what the committee did in this case. We believe we have done this and that is why it is time to move the bill forward.

Stakeholders are interested in the passage of the bill. They have been patiently waiting for the bill to become law. We are now one step closer to doing that. I encourage members of the House to support the amended bill.

Motions in amendment
Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member from Abbotsford is absolutely right to say that there was cooperation from all four corners of the House to work on this bill and that there have been substantial improvements. There is no doubt about that.

Let us get back to the essential consideration before us now, which is the amendment motions that have been brought forward by the NDP regarding the compulsory nature of the Canadian Transportation Agency in forcing people to live in Ottawa and eliminating or lessening the potential pool of candidates for the Canadian Transportation Agency. The member certainly did not explain why he opposes the idea that a person from Abbotsford who has the best possible qualifications but does not want to live in Ottawa, for obvious reasons that should be evident to anyone from British Columbia, should not be able to apply and be appointed to the Canadian Transportation Agency.

He has not explained why folks from Abbotsford and the Fraser Valley who are perfectly qualified, people who have all the qualifications and certainly would be assets to the Canadian Transportation Agency and to Canada, are excluded from applying for those positions unless they want to live in Ottawa. The bill is very clear: “The members shall reside in the National Capital Region...”. If the member could explain, because we have this one area of disagreement--

Motions in amendment
Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Order. The hon. member for Abbotsford.

Motions in amendment
Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, this government is not going to force anyone to move to Ottawa. I think the member is being somewhat crafty in making that suggestion. In fact, I would respond by saying that if we look at clause 5 of the bill, we see that it specifically provides for the governor in council to actually make arrangements that perhaps would expand that residency requirement. This is not cast in stone. It says that the members of the Canadian Transportation Agency will reside in the national capital region unless otherwise determined.

I also suggest to the member that he had an opportunity to make those arguments at committee. I do not think he is going to deny that. That is what the committee process is for. I would suggest that what he is doing here is essentially thwarting the democratic process. He is known for his filibustering on the softwood lumber agreement. Now he is trying to raise issues that were already dealt with at the committee stage. Let us get the bill done. Let us move it forward. Let us serve the interests of all Canadians.

Motions in amendment
Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, section 95.1 addresses the noise made in railroad yards by railway companies. This bill truly addresses the noise problem. The railway companies have to make as little noise and vibration as possible, among other things by taking into account the potential impact on persons residing in properties adjacent to the railway.

I would like my Conservative colleague to confirm that the people who live next to the Moreau station in Hochelaga, the Joffre railroad yard in Lévis—Bellechasse, the Farnham railroad yard in Brome—Missisquoi or those who live next to the Pointe-Saint-Charles railroad yard in Jeanne-Le Ber can be assured that the Canadian Transportation Agency can intervene to prevent companies from making excessive noise. They must cause as little noise or vibration as possible.

Motions in amendment
Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, at committee we had a very fulsome discussion about railway noise. It probably took up most of our time. There were suggestions made by Canadians from across the country. We had people from across the country giving input. We even set up special teleconferencing to enable people from the west coast to participate in this process. They made one thing clear. They support the transportation system in Canada. They support railways, but they also believe that railway noise must be put in the context of quality of life.

I know that the hon. member from the Bloc played a very critical role in making sure these concerns were raised. I think he would agree with me that we have come up with a very good compromise bill. It is not the be-all and end-all, but it is a significant step forward in addressing the issue of railway noise. I appreciate his support in committee and in the House in supporting the bill.

Motions in amendment
Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know you are only going to give me a few minutes before you cut off debate and everybody is transfixed to hear what I have to say.

My first reaction is: What a wonderful bill. Another week and another Liberal bill recast as a Conservative initiative.

Members will know this bill because it appeared in the previous Parliament as Bill C-44, and it was for a wider transportation policy to address a series of issues. Now, Bill C-44 has been broken down into three parts, and this is one.

I am going to speak for about 10 minutes to ensure that everybody understands the benefits of the bill. I do not want to be too critical, but I noted that there are some members here who are particularly interested in one aspect of this bill that merits reinforcement; and that is, those agencies, corporations and entities that are engaged in commuter railways and commuter traffic and who depended on a change in the national transportation policy are addressed to ensure that they were included in transportation issues to the benefit of all consumers and commuters because they are one and the same. The bill in its initial format, and now repeated again, addresses issues that are of concern to them.

One is access to federally regulated rail lines that might be declared surplus, or not, but certainly to have commuter agencies at least access them so that they can be maximized in their utilization for the purposes of consumers.

Second, to establish under this act opportunities to arbitrate on what amounts might be charged by the tier one railways to some of these commuter lines. So, to have not only access but to arbitrate on a fair process of remuneration in order that these agencies function in an economically feasible environment. I think I have that right.

Then, finally, to have, when there is a disposition of these access lines, the valuation process be one that makes it feasible for commuter agencies to acquiesce the purchase process and then to make the application for commuter use in an environment where there is a valuation process that makes it fair for those agencies to function.

Members must remember that I am talking about federally regulated rail lines and federally regulated agencies.

What we had envisioned under Bill C-44, and now repeated in Bill C-11, was a process whereby the interests of the user, the end user, in this case the commuter as an end user, be part and parcel of transportation policy.

I know that the debate so far on these amendments has focused on where a member of the board of directors would live or not live and who would get the advantage in terms of getting employment. I think that is nice. It is fine to do that. However, the most important issue is to keep in mind how we develop railway policy throughout the country.

When I said that this is another Liberal bill being re-presented and cast by a minister of transport who is accustomed to borrowing good ideas from the Liberals, it makes one wonder if actually he is a Liberal. Hold on. I think he was.

Nevertheless, we can become once again what we were generated to be, at least through the ideas and legislation that is going to help Canadians everywhere. I think that there were three sections especially that were presented to committee members. While I was not there, they are issues that are--

Motions in amendment
Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member for Eglinton—Lawrence, but he will have six minutes left in a 10 minute speech when the House takes up this topic again.

The House resumed consideration, from February 5, of Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act, as reported (with amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.