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Crucial Fact

Independent MP for Edmonton—St. Albert (Alberta)

Won his last election, in 2011, with 63.50% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Points of Order April 10th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a very important point of order.

On Tuesday morning, during routine proceedings, the chair of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food reported Bill C-30 back to the House with amendments. I wish to seek a ruling from the Chair as to whether an amendment to Bill C-30, adopted by the committee, is in order.

I understand that generally, the Chair does not involve itself with the business of committees, given that committees are masters of their own proceedings. However, as Speaker Milliken pointed out on February 27, 2007, at page 7386 of the Debates, ruling on a similar matter:

As the House knows, the Speaker does not intervene on matters upon which committees are competent to take decisions. However, in cases where a committee has exceeded its authority, particularly in relation to bills, the Speaker has been called upon to deal with such matters after a report has been presented to the House.

I submit that an amendment moved by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, and adopted by the committee, is out of order, because the committee has exceeded its authority.

The amendments to the committee-adopted subsection 116(4) seek to add an entirely new and different provision to the Canada Transportation Act that was clearly not envisioned in the original draft of Bill C-30, as tabled and passed by the House at second reading on Friday, March 28, 2014.

The summary of the original Bill C-30 states that:

This enactment amends the Canada Grain Act to permit the regulation of contracts relating to grain and the arbitration of disputes respecting the provisions of those contracts. It also amends the Canada Transportation Act with respect to railway transportation in order to, among other things, (a) require the Canadian National Railway Company and the Canadian Pacific Railway Company to move the minimum amount of grain specified in the Canada Transportation Act or by order of the Governor in Council; and (b) facilitate the movement of grain by rail.

Bill C-30, as originally tabled, was about moving grain. It is much needed. It is a serious problem with respect to farmers getting their grain to market. However, the amendment, tabled at committee by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Foods, and adopted by the committee, seeks an entirely new power:

Subsection 116(4) of the Canada Transportation Act is amended by adding the following after paragraph (c):

(c.1) order the company to compensate any person adversely affected for any expenses that they incurred as a result of the company's failure to fulfill its service obligations or, if the company is a party to a confidential contract with a shipper that requires the company to pay an amount of compensation for expenses incurred by the shipper as a result of the company's failure to fulfill its service obligations, order the company pay that amount to the shipper;

The Minister of Agriculture may believe that this is a favourable amendment, and it may very well be. The problem is that it exceeds the authority of the original bill and provides quite an extraordinary remedy in that it gives the regulator the power to award damages in the absence of any procedural fairness, any rule of law, or any discoveries.

In the ruling on the power of a committee to make amendments, Speaker Fraser ruled, on April 28, 1992, at page 9801 of the Debates, stating:

When a bill is referred to a standing or legislative committee of the House, that committee is only empowered to adopt, amend, or negative the clauses found in that piece of legislation and to report the bill to the House with or without amendments. The committee is restricted in its examination in a number of ways. It cannot infringe on the financial initiative of the Crown, it cannot go beyond the scope of the bill as passed at second reading, and it cannot reach back to the parent act to make further amendments not contemplated in the bill no matter how tempting this may be.

It may have been very tempting to amend the bill to provide for compensatory powers within the regulator, but it falls outside the four corners of Bill C-30 as it was adopted by the House.

Mr. Speaker, I submit to you that in this instance, the amendment to Bill C-30 is both beyond the scope of the bill and also reaches back to make changes to the Canada Transportation Act that were not contemplated by the bill. The amendment passed by the committee has the effect of giving the Canada Transportation Agency the right to award damages, a right that at this point in time has been the sole purview of the courts.

The amendment to subsection 116(4) is out of order, because it does not relate to the original subject matter of Bill C-30 as introduced and passed by the House at second reading and because it introduces new issues that were not part of Bill C-30 as originally introduced. The amendment is therefore beyond the scope of Bill C-30 and should be removed from the bill. I look forward to a ruling from the Chair.

Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act March 28th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, if railways are breaking contracts, the remedy is quite simple: litigation for breach of contract.

The bigger problem, as I think my friend indicated, is the lack of competition. Yes, we have a duopoly. There are only two major railroads running in our country, and that creates a problem. Interswitching may or may not help. It might actually hurt, if American railways start demanding use of other lines. The long-term solution would be more competition, and bringing in the heavy hand of regulation is unlikely to attract any further competition.

Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act March 28th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour for me to add a few comments in the debate on Bill C-30, the fair rail for grain farmers act. I certainly support the motivation behind this bill, and I am most mindful of the problem that exists in the prairie provinces, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. However, I want to place a couple of concerns on the record and ask whether there may be some unintended consequences of the bill. I support the bill and will keep my comments short enough so that this bill can be moved expeditiously to committee before the end of the day.

This bill seems to be based on a premise that it is the railroads, and the railroads alone, that are responsible for the inability of farmers to get their grain to markets. Although there may be some truth to that statement or that moral blameworthiness, I think it is an oversimplification.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture talked about the extensive consultation with the railroads before the implementation of the order in council approximately three or four weeks ago and the tabling of legislation. The railroads claim that there was a lack of consultation. CP president Hunter Harrison stated in the media that he was very concerned about the speed and the lack of consultation by the government in making such significant changes. Canadian National, which forms the southern boundary of my riding of Edmonton—St. Albert, has expressed similar concerns with respect to this legislation.

Mr. Speaker, you will no doubt know, being a member of Parliament from Saskatchewan, that this is a complicated supply chain. For grain to be moved to market, it requires the co-operation and coordination, as the member for Wascana just indicated, of multiple moving parts, including grain cars, elevators, and inland terminals. Of course, the railways are a big piece of the puzzle, but there are also ports, ships, and weather. All of these things have to work together if grain is going to be moved in an orderly manner from the field to the bin to the elevator to the railcar to the port and to markets.

We had a bit of a perfect storm last year, in a good way. There was a bumper crop. Crops have been estimated to be anywhere from 50% or higher than average yields, and that created a problem. The railroads have also had some weather experiences this winter, which was a very significant amount of snow and cold weather over the prairie provinces, and all over Canada as a whole. As a result, their ability to move grain was comprised. The government needs to be mindful of that.

I am always concerned when the government's solution to any problem is to bring in heavy-handed regulation, especially if the railroads are correct in their assessment that the regulations were brought in without adequate consultation. In fact, there is some suggestion in some editorials today that a solution like this may have unintended consequences that could cause more problems than it would solve. They may get grain moving; they may not. We always have to be mindful that there is not infinite capacity for the railroads to move product. There are only so many rails and so many cars. We also have to be mindful of other conditions, such as weather, and something that I do not think we have talked about today, which is safety.

The year 2013 was horrific for rail accidents. The most tragic was the Lac-Mégantic tragedy, in July 2013. However, there were also derailments in Alberta and Saskatchewan, where products, including dangerous products, were derailed and caused fires, though thankfully nothing as catastrophic as was experienced in Quebec.

Nonetheless, if we are going to put extra pressure on the railways to move more product, does that mean they are going to have to move trains faster? Does that mean they are going to have to use longer trains? Has anybody properly considered what that might mean for the safety of moving product by rail? There are those who live in communities that surround railroad tracks, like I do. I live less than two blocks from the Walker Yard, which is the main switching yard in western Canada for CN Rail. I hope the government takes into consideration that it is a complicated chain.

Another problem with the weather this year, as I understand it, is with respect to the Great Lakes and moving product through Thunder Bay and that region. The ice is not allowing for the free flow of water, and perhaps the government needs to consider using icebreakers to help break up the ice so that more ships with grain can move through the Great Lakes.

The problem is much more complicated than simply blaming the railroads. There is no doubt they have major responsibility and are a major part of the supply chain, but the supply chain is larger than they are.

I will resume my seat and take questions in a moment because I want to see the bill go to committee before the clock hits the bottom of the hour, but I would ask the government to consider what some of the unintended consequences of bringing in more regulations to the railways might be.

The last thing I want to say is that rail is responsible for moving other products besides grain. There is potash. There is oil. If the railways are forced by threat of a $100,000-per-day fine to put priority on grain over other commodities, are we going to be standing up in the House three months or six months from now debating a potash fair transport act or an oil fair transport act? Those products are going to become compromised if grain becomes the only priority.

I support the intention of the bill. I am very sympathetic to the farmers who are unable to move their product and who have grain in their bins that could conceivably rot and spoil if left there too long, so I support moving the bill to committee today. However, I ask the government and the committee to consider some of the unintended consequences to the railroads as the bill moves forward to committee and back to the House. The railroads are only one part, albeit a big one, of the supply chain.

Foreign Investment March 28th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, Industry Canada has been warned for some time that a lack of clarity in the Investment Canada Act is going to threaten foreign investment in Canada. The net benefit test remains nebulous, and terms added on the fly, in 2012, such as “exceptional circumstances” and “strategic resources”, are wholly undefined. Predictably, foreign investment is declining. For example, Chinese investment fell from $21.5 billion in 2012, to a mere $220 million last year.

As $100 billion of capital is required for Alberta alone for the oil sands by 2019, when will the government provide clarity to the Investment Canada Act to stop repelling foreign investment?

International Trade March 27th, 2014

Mr. Speaker the trans-Pacific partnership is a comprehensive 21st century free trade agreement with the objective of resolving trade disputes and promoting regional economic growth. Both Canada and our friends in Taiwan have played active roles in the economic and trade development of the Asia Pacific region. In fact, Taiwan is Canada's fourth largest export market in Asia.

As Canada moves toward formal entrance into the trans-Pacific partnership, it becomes evident that Canada would greatly benefit should Taiwan also gain a seat at the table. Given the depth and breadth of Taiwan's trading investment relationships with the Asia Pacific economies, its inclusion would increase the agreement's international profile as well as its commercial significance.

It is in Canada's interests to gain greater access to Taiwanese markets for our exports and also to ensure that Taiwan is not excluded from the benefits of broader regional trade liberalization, which could destroy supply chains, creating new barriers to business.

Taiwan is a free trading nation, like Canada, and both would make welcome additions to the trans-Pacific partnership.

Public Safety March 4th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, last week, the RCMP made the unilateral decision to reclassify the Swiss Arms Classic Green carbine rifle as prohibited, extinguishing the liberties of thousands of law-abiding Canadians. This decision lacked both judicial and civilian oversight, yet it is unclear to me that it was offside our current legislation.

The Minister of Public Safety has announced amnesty to individuals affected, and the government has mused about compensation for forfeiture. While these are positive steps, they fail to address the cause of the problem. The cause is the blatant legislative deficiency.

To the Minister of Public Safety, when are we going to see specific definitions of prohibited firearms and variants thereof? When are we going to see clear regulations in place to protect law-abiding gun owners from arbitrary bureaucratic—

The Budget February 28th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, last fall's Speech from the Throne made a vague reference to the government's commitment to balanced budget legislation.

On October 22, the Minister of Finance assured me and this House that the government intended to introduce balanced budget legislation, although his explanation as to what that might look like was somewhat perplexing.

On Wednesday I supported budget 2014, and I congratulate the government on its commitment to balancing the budget. However, I remain concerned about future budgets and future governments.

Why is there no mention of balanced budget legislation in the government's budget plan?

Government Advertising February 27th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the government, specifically Employment and Social Development Canada on winning yet another prestigious Teddy Waste Award yesterday. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation holds this annual black-tie event to celebrate the best of the worst in government waste.

Employment and Social Development Canada was awarded the federal Teddy for its $2.5 million wasted during the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs, advertising its non-existent Canada jobs grant. If it is going to advertise a non-existent government program, why not do so during the most expensive advertising time that taxpayers' money can buy?

Despite assurances of progress from the Minister of Employment and Social Development, the Canada jobs grant program still does not exist, and I eagerly await the 2014 hockey playoffs to see if this Teddy will be successfully defended.

Seriously, I would like to thank the Canadian Taxpayers Federation for its commitment to protecting hard-working taxpayers, an important function that the Conservative government abandoned long ago.

CBC and Public Service Disclosure and Transparency Act February 26th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, as Motions Nos. 1 to 8 have all failed, the bill in its current form bears no resemblance to the original Bill C-461 and represents neither public service disclosure nor transparency as the now misnomer title would suggest. Accordingly, the sponsor of the bill does not move concurrence.

Petitions February 14th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the second petition is signed by 28 individuals from northern Alberta and British Columbia, calling on tougher and stronger impaired driving laws, including the establishment of a specific offence for vehicular homicide in the unfortunate circumstance when an impaired driver causes the death of an individual.