Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-11. I hope that this bill will be passed.
Earlier, I asked my Liberal colleague some questions. Things are not easy in this Parliament, particularly because of the very different approaches to development or to problems the public may be having. Too often, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party have great plans, but neither of them solves people's real problems. Bill C-11 will try to offer a little salve for the wounds of people who are suffering all sorts of upsets because of railway company operations.
The railway industry is expanding rapidly and has undergone major technological changes. Although it provides a useful and increasingly profitable service, it imposes constraints on the neighbouring communities. This has gone on for years, as I said earlier.
The problems associated with the noise, vibration and odours generated by railway operations as a whole have existed for a long time and are becoming more serious with the development of new technologies.
The people listening to us—Quebeckers and Canadians—will understand that for reasons having to do with economies of scale, the way things are done in the railway industry has changed. For one thing, in the mid-1990s, coupling of locomotives and cars was done by human beings. Starting in the mid-1990s or early years of this century, human beings were replaced by remote coupling, which is done electronically or electrically.
Once this way of doing things was changed, once they wanted to achieve economies of scale by reducing the number of employees in switching yards, the problems associated with noise, vibration and odours became worse. This is done following Transport Canada's standards. As yet, there is no technology that would allow this to be done while making the least noise possible. Since the mid-1990s, many groups of people who live alongside switching yards have got together and formed associations to try to control the noise and odour pollution generated by the railway industry.
Wanting to limit problems for neighbouring communities does not mean being opposed to rail transportation. On the contrary, we want the rail industry to expand. Railway companies, like Canadian Pacific and Canadian National, make profits. While they had some problems during the 1980s and 1990s, I think that since that time they have paid their shareholders a very handsome return. In fact, it rises every quarter.
Phenomenal profits are being made. Profits like these had never before been made in the railway industry.
Pressure is being taken off the roads, and that can help combat greenhouse gases. We are aware of this. Rail transportation can limit greenhouse gases, because it reduces the number of trucks on the roads. It also imposes constraints, however.
Since 2000, that is, since the 37th Parliament, this House has been trying to solve the noise problem. The Liberals introduced Bill C-26. It was virtually an omnibus bill which addressed a number of problems in the railway, airline and other industries, and which made VIA Rail an independent corporation, a corporation with share capital. This could have helped it to expand. From the outset, the Conservatives were against expansion by VIA Rail, which could have engineered its own expansion and could have created VIAFast. Members will recall that debate. The Liberals were divided: there was the Chrétien clan and the clan led by the member for LaSalle—Émard. The result was division on Bills C-26 and C-44. Bill C-26, which was introduced in the 37th Parliament, never saw the light of day because of that division. In the 38th Parliament, Bill C-44 also failed to get passed.
Once again, the people who live near marshalling yards and suffer from the noise pollution and other by-products of the railway industry have not seen any improvement. This problem was buried in omnibus bills. One of the methods used by the Conservative Party in this 39th Parliament was to divide the previous Bill C-44, which was debated in the 38th Parliament, into three.
The Conservatives say now that they broke it up in order to speed things along, but they are concealing the real reason, which is that they wanted to remove everything that had to do with VIA Rail from Bill C-44.
The Conservatives have never wanted the railways to really develop. They did not want the railway companies to compete with airlines for passengers. That was their choice. They wanted to protect WestJet rather than help rail develop sufficiently, the kind of development that the Bloc Québécois has always supported.
It is very important for the transportation sector to become more competitive. Rail is healthy competition for the airlines. There is talk of a fast train, although not a high speed train, between Quebec and Montreal and Montreal and Windsor. The Bloc Québécois has always supported this vision. The Conservatives, though, divided up Bill C-44 because they did not want VIA Rail to become an independent corporation ensuring its own development or the famous VIAFast project to see the light of day, that is to say, a fast Quebec City-Montreal, Montreal-Windsor train. That is the real reason.
All the same, we would have supported an omnibus bill that included all of Bill C-44. We supported Bills C-44 and C-26 at the time, and now we support Bill C-11, which will deal once and for all with the noise pollution problem.
It is never simple. I use this example because, at the same time, the people listening to us will understand how Parliament works. It is never simple. Insofar as the noise issue is concerned, the Conservatives took it upon themselves to bring a bill forward that touches on this problem. However, there is not just noise pollution but also vibration pollution and fumes. There are all kinds of sources of environmental pollution.
During our discussions with the government about Bill C-44, we touched on these issues but were not successful because of the entire VIA Rail question, even though we were working on fixing the pollution problems. If we are going to fix them, let us really do it. But with government things are never as straightforward as that. We have to understand. The Conservatives have never had any vision of the future; it is always short-term. So they decided today to include noise pollution in Bill C-11. Like us, all my colleagues and all the citizens out there say that if they are going to fix the railway pollution problem, why not take advantage of this opportunity to include fumes in the bill and the issue of locomotives turning night and day and producing fumes and environmental problems.
Sometimes you walk along the rails and you see pollution. Because the rails have been changed, stacks of wood are piled up along the tracks, and so on. The Bloc Québécois wanted to solve all the environmental problems related to railways, but the government decided that the noise was the problem. The Bloc Québécois tried in committee to put forward its own proposals. We wanted to solve the problems of noise, vibrations and fumes. We had clearly understood that, by including only noise, Conservatives did not want to solve all the environmental problems. So we went with vibrations and we asked ourselves whether we could perhaps solve at the same time the problems of vibrations and fumes from locomotives.
This is where we attack the law clerk of the House. The government knows quite well that, when it introduces a bill, we cannot move the amendments that we want, even though we have a lot of goodwill, even though all my colleagues from the Bloc Québécois are experiencing major problems, since, for example, some of their fellow citizens live close to the Moreau railroad yard, in Hochelaga, or the Joffre railroad yard, in Lévis. Even though this committee is now represented by a Conservative, we will ensure that all this will change in the next election. However, the fact remains that the people of Lévis complained to us and we never stopped defending their interests. There is the same problem close to the Farnham railroad yard, in Brome—Missisquoi, and to the Pointe-Saint-Charles railroad yard, in Jeanne-Le Ber, east of Montreal. All these people wanted us to solve all these problems, including fumes. Thus, we introduced an amendment, but the whole part concerning fumes was taken out. The law clerk of the House told us that it was out of order.
So, it is not like we did not try. We wanted to show our goodwill and our good faith in this issue. We tabled everything that we could think of. We even wanted to include public health, because there are now international standards on noise pollution. We really wanted to comply with public health standards. One of our amendments asked that public health not be unreasonably affected, given these essential operational needs. We wanted to include the issue of public health in the bill.
However, because the bill introduced by the Conservative Party was totally silent on public health, the law clerk of the House told us that this amendment, even though quite interesting, was out of order, because it would change the meaning of the legislation.
Those citizens who are listening to us must understand that a government is something that is complex. And when it is a Conservative government, it is twice as complex. That is how things work. That is the reality. The government uses every possible trick to prevent us from succeeding and achieving our objectives. In this case, we were able to reach an agreement on noise.
So, as we are speaking, clause 95.1 of the bill reads as follows:
When constructing or operating a railway, a railway company, must cause as little noise and or vibration as possible,...
This is what we have before us now. The original bill introduced by the Conservative Party talked about not making unreasonable noise.
We managed to get an amendment in that goes further. That was done with the support of the Conservatives, who finally realized that we wanted at least to settle once and for all the issue of noise and vibration, so that we would no longer talk about it, and so that citizens would be able to win their cases.
So, we managed to agree to include the expression “as little noise and or vibration as possible”.
One day, this bill will come into force, but not today. It is at third reading stage, then it has to go to the Senate and come back here. Canadian federalism is complicated. There is another chamber, the upper chamber, called the Senate. It has to study the same bills. The Bloc Québécois has been wanting to get rid of the Senate for a long time. The Conservatives have decided that senators will be elected by universal suffrage. We are far from getting rid of it. The federation will become even more complicated. However, one day, we will no longer be here—we hope. One day, Quebeckers will decide to have their own country and they will not have a Senate. That will be best. There will just be a parliament and it will be far less complicated.
However, in the current situation, the bill as amended by the Bloc Québécois, among others, reads as follows at clause 95.1:
When constructing or operating a railway, a railway company, must cause as little noise and or vibration as possible, taking into account
(a) its obligations under sections 113 and 114, if applicable;
This has to do with operations.
(b) its operational requirements;
(d) the potential impact on persons residing in properties adjacent to the railway.
We managed to get that included. The following clause—and this is the crux of the bill—gives powers to the Transportation Agency, which is new. During its operations, it will have to take into account the potential impact on persons residing in properties adjacent to the railway. From now on, it will have to take into account those who live close by when there are problems with noise and vibration. That is how it will be for their operations.
Clause 95.2 states:
The Agency shall issue and publish, in any manner that it considers appropriate, guidelines with respect to:
This requires the Transportation Agency to establish and publish guidelines that the railway companies will have to follow. Just to get this part into the bill required many hours of discussion. Finally, the agency can be forced to establish and publish guidelines. It is all well and good to say there will be as little noise and vibration as possible, but there still need to be guidelines. This bill will force the agency to establish and publish guidelines.
Once the guidelines have been established and the railways are operational, we proceed to clause 95.3.
On receipt of a complaint made by any person that a railway company is not complying with section 95.1, the Agency may order the railway company to undertake any changes in its railway construction or operation that the Agency considers reasonable to cause as little noise or vibration as possible, taking into account factors referred to in that section.
Before this bill, the Canadian Transportation Agency had no power. Its only role was that of intermediary. Judicial power was tested in that respect in an Ontario court.
One might have thought that after getting involved in a file and participating in negotiations, Transport Canada could have made recommendations and ordered the company to take certain measures if no agreement could be reached in the end. In a decision concerning an Ontario community, the Ontario court ruled that the Canadian Transportation Agency had no power, that it was simply a mediator, not even an arbitrator. It could participate in discussions, but it had no power.
The real purpose of this bill is to give the Canadian Transportation Agency the power to order measures to be taken. That is, once it receives a complaint, it will analyze it and order the railway company to take measures.
Recently, I met with the Railway Association of Canada, which turned up practically in tears to tell us that it made no sense to force railway companies to produce as little noise and vibration as possible.
I might ask all railway employees, who work very hard, why we have this bill before us today. I might also ask the shareholders and the companies that are making healthy profits and doing good business why we are debating this bill. We are debating it because they have been so remiss in past years that we have no choice.
Personally, I took part in a meeting with citizens who live around the Moreau marshalling yard in Hochelaga; the railway company was also present. I will not say its name because they are all the same, regardless of which one it is, and I do not want to discriminate. So I participated in the discussions. It was easy to see that the employees taking part were there under duress. The member for Hochelaga was present to listen to the citizens. I was there as the transportation critic for the Bloc Québécois. My colleague from Hochelaga and the community, who had been following the Ontario decision, were very well informed and proposed some mitigation solutions to the representatives of the railway company. These people seemed interested but in the end nothing ever came about. That is how it is.
It was the same thing when I met with citizens’ groups in the Joffre marshalling yard in Charny. I had a chance to meet the Mayor of Charny, who is now a councillor for the City of Lévis and who really took an interest in this file. It was and still is the same thing. The companies listen, but in the end, when they have to spend some money, it does not go anywhere, not to the next level up anymore than to the board of directors.
Since I am being told I have two minutes left, I am going to use them wisely.
This is how we have ended up where we are today. The Bloc Québécois does not want to be one of those who would prevent the railway from developing. On the contrary, we know that it is developing just fine, that business is good and that it is probably time to put things in order and do something about the pollution that railways can cause. There is noise pollution and other kinds of nuisances.
We will not fix all that today, as I said. And it is not because the colleagues of the Bloc Québécois would not have liked this bill to solve all the nuisances caused by railways. Given that the industry is doing well, maybe it is time for it to make some investments.
At least today the noise and vibration problems should be solved. For any citizens who live along railways or near railway yards this bill should solve any noise and vibration problems they experience. From now on complaints can be filed with the Canadian Transportation Agency, which can intervene and, in accordance with the provision contained in paragraph 93(3), order the railways to take action. The Agency will be able to order railway companies to take remedial action.
Obviously this does not solve the other problems. In committee, communities came to tell us that the trains are increasingly long. In some places, they are even afraid that emergency services cannot get through. That obviously includes ambulances, firefighters, and all sorts of services. Actually the trains are so long that they block entry into entire neighbourhoods. This problem is not dealt with in the bill. I hope that the government one day will listen and table new bills that will deal with all these issues.