Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to take part in the debate on Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
First of all, I want to tell you how disappointed I am concerning the length of time the Parliament of Canada has taken to bring this bill to fruition. We should recall that earlier versions of this bill have already been presented twice, in the form of Bills C-26 and C-44, introduced on February 25, 2003, and March 24, 2005 respectively. However, the adoption of this bill is of major importance for the people of Quebec and for all of Canada.
This delay reminds me of the saga surrounding repairs to the Quebec bridge. Remember the Conservatives’ election promises from last winter. Then they were promising to settle this issue as quickly as possible.
During the last election campaign, the Conservatives enjoyed repeating that the Bloc Québécois could not solve this problem, being an opposition party. The Conservatives boasted that they could finally provide a solution to something the Liberals had been unable to do anything about.
It was not until the company partially mandated to repair the bridge decided to dismantle the scaffolding that the Conservative government woke up.
A government source said that an additional $69 million to $76 million would be needed to complete the work.
The headline in the July 19 issue of the daily newspaper Le Soleil read: “New hope for the Quebec bridge.” There actually were discussions among spokespersons from Ottawa, Quebec City, Canadian National and the owner of the bridge on July 18. No timetable, however, was put forward and the people in Quebec City are still waiting, and waiting.
It is like this bill that is supposed to amend the Canada Transportation Act. Lots of people have been waiting for it to be adopted for a long time, but it has not yet come to fruition and this may prove to be catastrophic for urban transit, as we will see later.
To begin with, I would like to underscore an amendment that I deem to be important and that was added to the bill’s declaration of principle.
For the first time, respect for the environment is being added to the various obligations of transportation systems. In committee we will see what provisions may be added so that this obligation is really enforced and complies with the Kyoto protocol.
I will give the example of the locomotives. The rate at which the old locomotives are renewed has to be speeded up, since only 29% of all diesel locomotives comply with environmental standards.
Furthermore, we must encourage the use of the Green Goat switchers, a hybrid diesel-electric system tested in 2004. It seems that this hybrid switcher reduces fuel consumption by 60%. These are but a few examples.
There are three measures among the legislative provisions proposed in this bill that particularly attract our attention. They deal with air and rail sectors and concern airline advertising, noise relating to rail operations, and the abandonment of rail lines.
I feel that consumer protection is absolutely vital, and that increasing open competition must not in any way penalize the consumer, who is entitled to greater transparency
In this connection, Bill C-11will amend the Transportation Act in relation to complaints processes, the advertising of prices for air services and the disclosure of terms and conditions of carriage.These new measures will provide for greater control over the sale of airline tickets, among other things by giving the agency jurisdiction over ticket sales advertising.
Licensees must in future display, in a prominent place, the rates for the service offered, including the terms and conditions of carriage. This new condition also applies to services offered on the Internet.
So the terms and conditions of carriage must be made accessible.
The Canadian Transportation Agency will have a new regulatory power allowing it to require, through regulations, that the advertised price of air services indicate the fees, charges and taxes collected on behalf of another person, enabling the consumer to readily determine the cost of the service.
Although it is a step in the right direction, we must ensure that the Transportation Agency exercises this power in a rigorous, proactive way and in the best interests of consumers. Consumer associations have been requesting far more transparent pricing for a very long time.
These new measures to improve transparency will benefit both consumers and the airlines, which will be able to engage in healthier competition.
I would like to raise one point. That is the abolition by the former finance minister of the position of Air Travel Complaints Commissioner in the 2005 budget. The previous government announced at the time that the Canadian Transportation Agency would henceforth assume responsibility for the complaints program.
Bill C-11, as proposed by the Conservatives, no longer provides for the position of Complaints Commissioner and includes this function in the ordinary operations of the Transportation Agency.
We take a positive view of the fact that the Transportation Agency can henceforth order carriers to compensate people for damages caused by a failure to comply with the conditions of carriage. This is a step forward because the previous Complaints Commissioner could only make suggestions.
There are some shortcomings, however. For example, the Transportation Agency no longer has to submit an annual report on the complaints and how they were settled. This report would point the finger at the guilty parties and their failings.
The commissioner was also able under the complaints process to demand a lot of information from carriers, something that the Transportation Agency cannot do. The Bloc Québécois deplores this weakening of the role of the Transportation Agency, which loses its ability to investigate and some of its visibility.
We certainly cannot forget the Jetsgo saga, when hundreds of travellers suffered damages when this airline abruptly ceased operations at the height of the holiday travel season. This must never happen again. The Bloc Québécois severely criticized it at the time.
It is clear that, in the Bloc’s view, the government must assume its responsibilities. In particular, it could help set up a compensation fund which would ensure that tickets are reimbursed when consumers buy them directly from carriers, as happens increasingly often.
Therefore, this bill can be improved considerably in a number of ways.
Besides the legislative changes in connection with air transportation, another very important aspect of Bill C-11 concerns rail transport.
The legislation would amend part III of the Canada Transportation Act by creating a mechanism for dealing with complaints concerning noise and by amending the provisions for dealing with the transfer and discontinuance of operation of railway lines.
For some years now, the Bloc Québécois has been calling for legislative changes to deal with the serious noise problems faced by many communities. I am referring to the harmful effects of noise resulting from the construction or operation of railways, and the movement of cars in marshalling yards in particular.
In recent years, the public and the railways have often been at loggerheads. The public bothered by noise has no recourse but to complain directly to the railway concerned or to initiate civil proceedings. No federal agency currently has the authority to intervene in such instances.
Hence the importance of legislating in this regard, so that the railway companies feel some pressure and take the initiative to limit the disturbances caused by railway construction or operation.
These legislative changes are a step in the right direction, but I have some amendments to propose. I will try to ensure that the agency's jurisdiction will not be just over noise, but also over emissions or vibrations from rail cars. In this Kyoto protocol era, environmental issues are extremely important.
I realize that rail transport is an excellent alternative to road transport and is key to economic development in Quebec.
However, there must be a balance between such economic objectives and the environment, particularly in terms of respecting the public's quality of life and well-being.
The powers granted to the Canadian Transportation Agency are in no way prejudicial to the railway companies, particularly since the agency will now have the power to issue and publish guidelines, after consulting with interested parties, and to propose a mechanism for the collaborative resolution of noise complaints. Consequently, each party will know the other's limits. The purpose of this is to resolve such conflicts peacefully and without delay.
I am pleased to see that urban transit authorities will now be recognized. A section has been added under which a railway company wishing to sell a railway line shall first offer it to the federal government, the provincial government and the urban transit authorities concerned.
These new provisions are desirable and will provide better protection for the unique transportation network provided by urban railway corridors. I have always considered rail transport to be an excellent alternative to road transport. Such measures, therefore, should be encouraged.
I mentioned at the beginning of my presentation that this bill has been floating about these halls since the 37th Parliament. Not passing it could have irreparable consequences. If things continue as they are, the survival of agencies such as the Agence métropolitaine de transport, which serves greater Montreal, will be threatened. The new act gives them an arbitrator, the Canadian Transportation Agency. They will also benefit from new regulations that will let them negotiate on a more equal footing with bigger players such as CN and CP, which often behave like monopolies in the face of these agencies. The survival of these agencies is important in the context of the Kyoto protocol, and that is why I sincerely hope this bill will finally be passed.
We support this bill in principle, and we will try to improve it by making amendments in the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.