An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in October 2007.

Sponsor

Lawrence Cannon  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Canada Transportation Act. Certain amendments apply to all modes of transportation, including amendments that clarify the national transportation policy and the operation of the Competition Act in the transportation sector, change the number of members of the Canadian Transportation Agency, create a mediation process for transportation matters, modify requirements regarding the provision of information to the Minister of Transport and modify and extend provisions regarding mergers and acquisitions of air transportation undertakings to all transportation undertakings.

It amends the Act with respect to the air transportation sector, in particular, in relation to complaints processes, the advertising of prices for air services and the disclosure of terms and conditions of carriage.

The enactment also makes several amendments with respect to the railway transportation sector. It creates a mechanism for dealing with complaints concerning noise and vibration resulting from the construction or operation of railways and provisions for dealing with the transfer and discontinuance of operation of railway lines. It also establishes a mechanism for resolving disputes between public passenger service providers and railway companies regarding the use of railway company equipment and facilities.

The enactment also amends the Railway Safety Act to create provisions for the appointment of police constables with respect to railway companies and procedures for dealing with complaints concerning them.

In addition, it contains transitional provisions and consequential amendments.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

June 14, 2007 Passed That the amendments made by the Senate to Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be now read a second time and concurred in.
Feb. 21, 2007 Failed That Bill C-11 be amended by deleting Clause 5.
Feb. 21, 2007 Failed That Bill C-11 be amended by deleting Clause 3.

Canada Transportation ActGovernment Orders

September 20th, 2006 / 4:40 p.m.
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Liberal

David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, as the official opposition critic for transport it is enlightening to hear an evolving NDP position on the bill.

I would like to go back to a theme the member raised and put a couple of questions to him. He did raise the question of transparency and accountability and then really took it quite hard to the government in terms of its accountability and appointments process. I have a hard time reconciling those comments with the activities over the past six months of his colleague, the member for Winnipeg Centre, who has been in large part the stalking horse and the apologist for this government on its Bill C-2, the federal accountability act.

I would like to remind the member about some of the wonderful appointments taken on by the previous government in the past, including the appointment, for example, of Stephen Lewis, for whom we fought tooth and nail to get appointed as Under-Secretary-General to the United Nations. There was the appointment of Ed Broadbent for seven years as the President and CEO of Rights and Democracy in Montreal and, of course, my very good friend Mike Harcourt, the former NDP premier of B.C. who was appointed on three separate occasions by the Liberal government to take on some very important public policy work.

My question for the member, now that he has raised a number of issues which I am looking to discern through to find out how we can improve the bill, is the environmental question. There is no greenhouse gas reference in this bill whatsoever. This is at a time when the government purportedly is in the process of devising some sort of new environmental plan or strategy. I guess it will go along with the theme of a new government, a new environmental policy. I am not sure where it is. It has been seven months, to correct the record. How does the member take the fact that under Bill C-11 there are no environmental measures, no greenhouse gas references and, clearly, no effort to deal with the environmental and climate change challenge?

Canada Transportation ActGovernment Orders

September 20th, 2006 / 4:15 p.m.
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NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to the bill, a bill that has captivated the attention of government members who are taking copious notes and paying deep attention to the debate today. By not presenting speakers any more shows the profound lack of commitment the current government has toward a transportation strategy for this country, for the ability to actually address some of the transportation situations that are going on around our nation from coast to coast to coast.

While most of Bill C-11 occupies what we call the administrative side of things, it is a bit of a housekeeping bill, which I am sure the government will call a progressive and aggressive form of legislation because there is nothing else going on when it comes to transportation, particularly when it comes to sustainable transportation.

I represent a riding in the northwest of British Columbia that relies very much on the rail system to move goods in and out of our communities, particularly processed goods and, increasingly, the entire nation relies on the Port of Prince Rupert. It is a terminus that is meant to be an alleviation of the pressures on the other west coast ports, in particular the Vancouver area ports which have been clogged for far too long, mostly due to government neglect and lack of planning both at the provincial legislature with the Liberals in Victoria, the previous government, and the present government seems to be taking up the charge just as slowly.

With no national public transportation strategy or planning of any kind, communities are left to struggle along as best they can attempting to alleviate the congestion in urban and, in many cases, rural communities.

I want to talk about the need for a strategy. If only the bill, in addressing some of the major aspects of transportation, had within it the opportunity to show what this so-called new government might present to Canadians as a vision for our transportation sector. Instead, it chose to allow that opportunity, like so many others to this point in this hopefully short mandate of a minority Parliament, to pass it by, the opportunity to actually invest in the places that the manufacturing sector has been calling out for, for too many years.

I would also like to talk briefly about Transport Canada and the role that it has played in my community and in communities across British Columbia in particular.

The Library of Parliament did a study for us earlier this year to assess what has happened in rail safety just in the province of British Columbia over the last number of years.

We have what some have called the diabolical sale of BC Rail to CN by the Liberals in Victoria, British Columbia, with little public input and few conditions upon that sale. We have now seen an absolutely dramatic increase in sometimes fatal accidents. These are not simply a slowdown of trains or an inability of shippers to get their product to market. Those things were going on and are going on even more so. What is even more drastic is that when a company comes in it is the responsibility of the government to hold that company and the transportation sector to account for its safety practices but the government has neglected its duties, as the previous government did. The present government is continuing that bad practice and it is putting the lives of people working on that rail at stake. We have seen a tragic loss of life in British Columbia.

We have seen increasing numbers of accidents month in and month out with ne'er a word from the transportation minister and not a murmur from the government at all about the concerns for what is happening in British Columbia along our rail system that, as I said, the entire country is now coming to rely upon, certainly if they want to ship anything to the Far East or to other countries and cannot get it through our currently congested ports. This is an absolute shirking of responsibility.

In researching the accidents, we looked at not only the negligence of the companies involved but of the Transportation Safety Board, again filled with appointments by a previous Liberal government who may or may not have had experience in the transportation sector but they all had at least one thing in common and that was a strong allegiance to a formerly misguided Liberal government.

Now we see the current government proposing appointments for this commission which speaks much to transparency but walks in the opposite direction. We have had no assurances to this point of what that process will look like.

Will it be an open and fair transparent process? Will the public have input? Will there be local community involvement in that commission, or will it simply be people who wrote the appropriate cheques prior to the last federal election and made good with the current bastions of power?

It is important to consider that many Canadians watching the debate will not realize that many of the goods being shipped by Canadian rail are somewhat innocuous in nature. There are parts, widgets and various things, but there is an increasing amount of hazardous materials being transported on the rail system as well. When we combine that reality with a deplorable record on safety, we start to create the perfect forum for not only ecological disaster, but also grave consequences for the communities in these regions. They rely on the ability to trust the government to do what it is meant to do, which is to protect the interests of the public, not the narrow interests of a CEO from Texas running a rail line, but the interests of the people who voted all of us into this place. To this point, the government has not shown a commitment to that.

A rail shipment passes through my riding of Skeena once a month. It passes into a community through shipping, lands on our shores at Kitimat and travels up major waterways, which thousands of people rely on for food sustenance. Businesses absolutely depend on these river systems. These rail systems are now carrying some of the most noxious and hazardous goods we have. Has there been an environmental assessment of this process? Has anyone looked at what would happen if yet another CN car tipped off the tracks? Absolutely not. Has there been any public accounting for what it means to destroy a major tributary or to destroy a major river habitat for what could be years?

The substances contained in some of these tankers are used in the oil and gas sector in northern Alberta: condensates and various substances that are far more toxic than any oil spill could really be. Here we have a government that is hoping it can simply slap the blinkers on, as the last government did, and not account for proper protections. It holds the public trust in its hands.

Recently CN sent letters to the various volunteer, I stress the word “volunteer”, fire departments up and down the rail line to notify them that if there were a major spill on this line, if a hazardous material spilled into a river or alongside a river, they were to hold the fort for a minimum of 12 hours. These fire departments survive and subsist on the many thousands of hours put together by these teams of dedicated people and the donations from our communities. After that point, CN might show up with a hazardous materials crew. It is an absolutely deplorable sense of responsibility.

This is a place where clearly, in the interests of the public, the government needs to step in and say, “We have licensed you to operate a rail system in this country, but we have not licensed you to play Russian roulette with the communities and ecosystems through which the rail systems pass”.

Whether it is through a major urban centre or through the ecosystems and the environments upon which we rely, this company has decided, for the interests of profit and the maximization of that profit, to change the length of cars against Transportation Safety Board recommendations and to lower the amount of braking that these cars can do in some of the most mountainous areas of the world and the government has been silent, allowing this to go on and accidents have happened.

The trust that has been eroded has been dramatic. This goes across all partisan lines and interest groups. People no longer trust the regulators to regulate the industry because there have been accidents after accidents, spills into lakes and rivers near communities where people survive on the drinking water into which this toxic sludge is seeping. The government to this point has been quiet.

The bill does not speak to it. It does not address a need for an increased level of assurance and safety and a clamping down on those companies that refuse to listen to their workers and to the communities. They simply fire off missives every once in a while to tell volunteer fire departments that is it their responsibility, departments that do not have the training nor the equipment to handle a major hazardous spill. CN will relegate all of that responsibility to those communities. It is absolutely unacceptable by any standard and any stretch of the imagination.

The investigations that have come from Transport Canada have laid blame. We are still looking for answers, and I am sure the parliamentary secretary can answer this question. To our knowledge it has not levied any serious fines and reprobations for the company even when there has been loss of life and even when negligence has been proven in the maintenance of the rail system on various bridges, on the capacity of engines to break when going down these mountains. When there has been negligence at that level, what has the punishment been? It has been near to nothing.

The commission appointments that are called for in the legislation must be taken into the public realm. They must be given the clear light of day so communities can feel confident with the few people appointed, of which there are only five to my understanding. They are meant to oversee such a broad ranging mandate and must have the confidence of the public, those who use the rail system, work on the rail system or have a rail pass through their community or environment.

A second and critical point, which we are looking to the government to respond to since the last one did not, is on the required infrastructure developments, particularly for rails like the ones that pass through Skeena. After much browbeating, haggling and demanding the last government at the eleventh hour, it decided in its benevolence to fund in some small way the Port of Prince Rupert. Everyone in the industry and across the country who had anything to do with this issue had asked that the Port of Prince Rupert be given the capacity the country needs in order to ship its goods. The government finally showed up.

In showing up, the government neglected to talk about the other aspects of this deal. Overpasses need to be created. Safety regulations do not exist with regard to carrying double stacked cars through some of the most mountainous regions in the world. The government must step up to the plate. It must join with the citizens in the northwest, the people of Prince Rupert, who have staked much on this development. They want to become facilitators for the trade our country needs so much, in light of the disastrous so-called softwood lumber deal negotiated yesterday, which will rob the communities in my area of their ability to attract investment dollars to manufacture wood products any more.

We have a government that has somehow twisted itself into the perverse notion that self-imposing a tax on Canadian industy is the wise way to create wealth and generate prosperity and jobs, Canadian companies that are lawfully transporting materials across a border, which was supposedly open under a previous government's claims of free trade. If only we could have free trade with our American partners, instead of being dragged into court and being punished over and over again with illegal tariffs. At the end of the day, when we are on the edge of winning important court cases that would mean so much to the communities I represent, when victory is within our grasp, defeat is put in its place.

For the communities I represent, a major infusion of economic diversification dollars is needed if these communities will have any hope whatsoever. According to the forestry council of British Columbia, the effects of climate change ravage our forests with fires and pine beetle infestations and it is because of negligence. The previous governments and governments around the world have refused to act while some of the more progressive and noble ones have chosen to do the right thing and make something happen with climate change.

Due to that fact the communities got kicked in the head once. Now, after years of punishing duties and illegal tariffs, they are being kicked in the head again. They are being told that investment dollars have not been secured for the diversification they need. They are being told that companies wish to invest in Canada, to process some of our wood rather than just ship out raw logs and jobs to other countries. I can remember the slogan in the last election, standing up for Canada.

We are lying down in front of our American counterparts and saying, “Please don't kick us, we will kick ourselves”. We'll pound away happily on ourselves for years to come. If you don't like the deal, by a simple whim and demand of your own decision decide that we are falsely supporting our exports again, you can pull out of this absolutely erroneous and silly deal”.

For goodness sake, the communities of this region finally was able to cajole the previous government into supporting proper infrastructure and transportation investment. We need to move it to the second level if these communities have any hope of surviving whatsoever.

We saw it on the east coast when the fish stock started to collapse. There were calls from members of all parties for the government to step in after so much mismanagement and bad decision-making. The communities simply could not survive. It was just not a fair setting of the table. How can they compete? How can they survive if a government is enacting policies that go counter to the interests of the communities? They are not asking for help.

We conducted a study through the Library of Parliament last year and we asked simple questions. With respect to the federal riding of Skeena—Bulkley Valley, a very proud and hard-working riding, we asked people: Of all the tax money collected and then given back through program spending, what has the ratio been over the last decade? They were able to pull up information between 1995 and 2005. Revenue taken from Skeena was close to $1.1 billion. The federal government has done very well off the mining, resource and forestry sectors in my riding. All transfer payments into the riding through the province was one-tenth that figure. It was 10:1 ratio of tax dollars out to tax dollars in.

The provinces are asking for fairness. Fiscal imbalance is an absolute joke with respect to the resource economies of our country. Canadians work hard, earn honest livings and pay their taxes. Industries pay their taxes, some of them better than others, but when the taxes are paid and when it is time to reinvest back into these communities, the federal government says that it has a lot of pressing needs such as a critical highway between Vancouver and Whistler that needs its immediate attention, or a conference centre that needs to be expanded, or a rail line somewhere else.

Communities ask for some sort of basic notion of investment, investment in the truest sense where tax dollars are collected from the public, invested into an area, returned back to the public coffers and increase economic growth. As if there had been a single economic study by the federal government before it started shovelling money into the VANOC. As if there was any concept of what a dollar was given and what dollars would be returned. The government believed the false promises of VANOC and the Gordon Campbell government as to what this thing would actually cost. So much for prudence. So much for true fiscal imbalance.

The government claims to listen to Canadians. The bill talks about noise, traffic congestion and the need to listen to Canadians. Here is an opportunity to listen to Canadians. This is an opportunity to finally get serious about a national public transportation plan, a strategy that would allow the country, as vast and broad as it is, to realize its full economic potential. This would allow those regions that have for so long contributed to the public coffers, that have so long supported the growth of our cities and enabled the folks, who push papers from one desk to another in those cities, to earn a living, the places that the hewers of wooden haulers of water, it has often been called, the places that generate wealth in the truest sense of the wealth of this nation, to receive wealth in return.

Here is an opportunity for the so-called new government to move away from such misaligned and inappropriate actions like those we saw in the former Mulroney government. We now see our current Prime Minister doing his best to emulate what it is to sell out, what it is to lay down. This is an opportunity for our country to grow, to prosper and to achieve the dreams of all Canadians.

The legislation needs a bit of work. We need some answers from the government. We ultimately need a plan and a strategy for the country and for regions like mine to prosper. It needs to come from this Parliament.

Canada Transportation ActGovernment Orders

September 20th, 2006 / 4:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, when I was parliamentary secretary to the minister of agriculture I had the opportunity to have consultations with the farm industry, based with primary producers themselves, looking at the issue of low farm incomes. There is no question that incomes are the lowest they have been in Canadian history.

While there are some who like to blame the farm community for that, our farmers are the most efficient and productive in the world, but the problem is other factors. I entitled my report, “Empowering Canadian Farmers in the Marketplace”, which is what needs to happen to deal with the problem. We need to empower Canadian farmers in the marketplace.

The new government is doing two things that go in the opposite direction. First, it has taken power away from primary producers in terms of dealing with the railways through section 43 of Bill C-11 by cancelling the agreement with the FRCC.

Second, it is taking away the power of western grain farmers by undermining the single desk selling aspect of the Canadian Wheat Board. The minister announced a task force yesterday in which the government will try to achieve that objective without first giving farmers, the people who are under the Canadian Wheat Board, their democratic right, as stated under the act, to have a vote to determine which way they want to go.

The government is moving in the opposite direction by taking power away from farmers rather than empowering farmers as should be done.

Canada Transportation ActGovernment Orders

September 20th, 2006 / 4:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, the fact is that when we look at the record in terms of support for the farm community, the new government does not have a leg to stand on. It does not compare at all with the previous government in terms of the positive things that we did for the farm community.

When it had the opportunity to do something positive, such as lowering freight costs and giving the farm community more control over transportation, what does it do in Bill C-11? It inserted section 43 which basically destroys the agreement that was established by the previous government and FRCC to give them some control over the transportation sector.

I would ask the member to go back to my remarks. The fact is that the biggest payments in Canadian history to primary producers came from the previous government. Were they enough? No, they were not. However, in its new budget the government did not even meet that standard even though Agriculture Canada's own figures indicated incomes were 16% lower.

I would suggest that perhaps the member from Vegreville should go back and look at his own comments on the Crow benefit and he would find some strange and startling statements by himself in terms of that debate.

Canada Transportation ActGovernment Orders

September 20th, 2006 / 4 p.m.
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Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

The member opposite asks who was in government. We made an agreement with the FRCC to prevent that gouging and the new government over there broke that agreement, violated that trust with western farmers and basically sold out to the big railways.

I would like to take this opportunity to read from this report, which incidentally would not have become public if it had not been for a reporter with the The Western Producer who obtained and published the report. The following are extracts from the report, sent by Neil Thurston, director of the rail economics directorate of the CTA, to Helena Borges, executive director of rail policy at Transport Canada. The report was in response to a Transport Canada request to the CTA “regarding the Agency staff’s assessment of CN and CP’s expenditures for the maintenance of the Government hopper car fleet in 2004”.

Based on the railway information, the CTA determined that maintenance costs on the hopper car fleet dedicated to grain transportation was $1,686 per car per year. Under the provisions of the revenue cap, the railways had been receiving $4,329 per car per year in maintenance costs.

There are currently more than 12,000 federal government hopper cars in service in western Canada. Members can do the math: 12,000 cars, actual cost $1,686, yet charging $4,329. Western farmers have been overcharged to the tune of over $30 million annually. The new government is going to allow those alleged overcharging costs to continue to go to the railways and continue to basically gouge farmers. The report I have referenced was tabled, reluctantly, by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

I would add that during the course of a meeting of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food on May 16, Mr. Sinclair Harrison, president of the FRCC, told the committee of additional Transport Canada reports, held in confidence, that support the position the FRCC has held for a number of years. Mr. Harrison stated:

At our request, Transport Canada commissioned a company called QGI, a consulting firm specializing in car inspections, to inspect approximately 1,000 of the 12,000 federal government cars, which is a representative sample. In our opinion, the confidential report prepared by QGI confirms FRCC's observation on the extent of programmed maintenance being deferred.

The dollar figure is in the report here and is in the hands of Transport Canada. Again, perhaps it should be released to this committee. The dollar figure put to the deficiencies in the cars, Transport Canada, and the FRCC agreed, was $35 million worth of work that has not been performed on these cars but was paid for.

The service not provided was purchased from the railways.

The facts are that there was an agreement by the previous government that would have benefited the farm community. The new government came to power and broke that agreement, which is what section 43 of Bill C-11 does. The government has sold out western farmers again to the big railway companies. It has a lot to answer for.

As I said, most of the bill is not new. It has the good points brought forward by the previous government but section 43 is doing what--

Canada Transportation ActGovernment Orders

September 20th, 2006 / 3:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am indeed pleased to speak on Bill C-11. As others have stated, there is a lot in this bill that makes sense. In fact, it is the third time in the House for most of the contents of this bill. However, tucked within the bill is another huge loss, and this is new, a huge loss for the farm community.

The minority government opposite has taken to inserting in a lot of its press releases and so on, when it can, a quote called “the new government”, but like so much of what this minority Conservative Party does, it is all about deception. There is nothing new in the bill except the one section that I mentioned, clause 43. What this does, quite simply, is trample on the rights of farmers. Let me repeat that: clause 43 tramples on the rights of farmers.

The new government, the new Conservative government, has cut a deal with the big railways and the big grain companies to tear down agreements that the previous government had entered into, agreements reached by the previous government that would have given a little bit of leverage to the grain producers and more control over their destiny as grain producers in terms of dealing with the railways. The issue really relates to the transfer of hopper cars to the Farmer Rail Car Coalition, a cross-section of groups across the west that would have had those railcars turned over to them to manage in the interests of the transportation system and in the interests of farmers.

The provisions of this bill, then, particularly clause 43, are really symbolic of the government's real priorities. With the implementation of these two provisions, the Conservative government has, along with its decision on May 4, sold out the farmers of western Canada and delivered an asset of incredible value, once again, to the railways.

The two provisions in question come out of the government's betrayal of western farmers and a reneging on an agreement signed in good faith between the Farmer Rail Car Coalition and the Government of Canada. The agreement signed between the FRCC and the federal government in November 2005 would have seen the federal government hopper car fleet transferred to the Farmer Rail Car Coalition. The FRCC was committed to a payment of $203 million for the cars and had ensured that the maintaining of the fleet could and would be done at a competitive rate far less than the unaccounted-for costs of the railways.

The third report of the Standing Committee on Transport, on February 14, 2005, provided one of the key reasons why there had been a lengthy delay between the announcement by the previous federal government to dispose of the hopper car fleet in 1996 and the agreement with the FRCC in November 2005. It stated that “the railways had a right of first refusal to acquire the cars that did not expire until the summer of 2002”.

No action was possible until that arrangement lapsed. It was in a matter of months following that period that the federal government, in spite of less than enthusiastic support from within Transport Canada and continued railway opposition, had taken the final decision.

When it comes to Transport Canada, I have had the opportunity, in a previous life as President of the National Farmers Union, to deal with Transport Canada for some 30 years. Transport Canada has never failed in this country's history, in those 30 years at least, but to come down on the side of the railways as opposed to coming down on the side of the farmers. The previous minister of transport was willing to challenge Transport Canada and come up with a deal that worked for primary producers. The Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities over here in the so-called new government is selling out those primary producers and catering to big rail in the process.

That is not what we expect from a new government. We expect a new government to stand up for those with less power in this country. This new government in that regard has failed miserably and has really betrayed the farm community in terms of that deal that was signed by the previous government.

Before getting into the specifics of the issue, I would like to speak about accountability, something the government pretends is of importance. The railways, since the issue of the possible transfer of the hopper car fleet, have maintained one consistent position: complete and total opposition to any transfer or sale of the cars to the FRCC. Yet, the railways have never once, even to the Canadian Transportation Agency according to testimony before the agriculture committee, provided their costs for maintaining the hopper car fleet which had been in their control since the 1970s.

For the benefit of those who are not knowledgeable about this issue to a great extent, I want people to understand that the past federal government purchased hopper cars for the railways which the Government of Canada owned and controlled to a certain extent to provide the rolling stock in order to provide the capacity to move the grain out of the western prairie region because the railways were not providing the rolling stock in fact to do it. That is why it was necessary. It is the cars we are really talking about in this particular instance. As I said, the railways really did not provide the costs of maintaining that hopper car fleet which had been in their control since the 1970s.

A Canadian Transportation Agency representative at the agriculture committee stated that even though the CTA made serious efforts to work with the railways, the agency found that “--the railways do not collect detailed information with respect to the maintenance of the hopper cars, which made the assignment or study more difficult--”. That was said at the agriculture committee on May 16, 2006.

The members of the new government, specifically those from rural western Canada, have failed to protect the interests of their constituents. At a minimum, they should be able to stand in the House and state that the decision of the government to renege on the deal with the FRCC is supported by one set of simple facts: namely, that the railways can maintain the fleet of hopper cars at a rate which matches that of the FRCC. They have not and they cannot do that.

On May 4 the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities stated that the government's decision would allegedly benefit the farmers of western Canada due to the $2 per tonne rate reduction. The news release of course issued by the minister indicated that the rate reduction of $2 per tonne was a potential target. Really then, the $2 per tonne is not real. It is just potential. It may happen. There is no assurance to the western farm community that this reduction will in fact be made.

In an interview, however, with The Western Producer on May 11, the same Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities stated that “the reduction in rates would likely fall in the $1.50 to $2 range”. So even the minister himself is not consistent in terms of what he is saying the potential reduction might be.

The claim by the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities that farmers would realize an annual saving of $50 million is contradicted by his own news release and by his own statement to The Western Producer, but it is not unusual for the new government to be caught in contradictions. We have seen this from members in question period today. We see it every day. In fact, there is no industry which sees the contradictions as often as the agricultural industry.

During the election the Conservative leader left the impression that there was going to be immediate cash for farmers. Remember that last January and last spring? Did they get immediate cash for farmers? The Minister of Human Resources and Social Development says there was. There were moneys announced last November by the previous government and that is what is being paid out. There was less money in the budget than the previous government had paid out. There was no immediate cash for farmers from the government to this day other than what was announced by the previous government.

The minister may be talking about the options program but the options program is a blame the victim kind of program. Instead of compensating producers for low farm prices, Conservatives have come up with an options program for a farmer who has farmed for 40 years. Maybe HRDC is providing the skills development training program for farmers and they thought it was Agriculture Canada, but I can certainly see the bureaucrats of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada training a farmer who has farmed for 40 years to farm better. I can certainly see that because what the government is doing on the options program is blaming the victim. It is saying the farmer is losing money because his skills are poor. That is what the government is really saying.

May I remind the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development that the problem the farm community has is low commodity prices worldwide which are caused by subsidies by other countries around the world. Low commodity prices are what is wrong.

Just to sidetrack for a minute, the Minister of International Trade and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food had the opportunity to be in Australia today to meet with the Cairns Group, the group that Canada was an original founding member of, at which meeting the United States and the European Union were going to argue the point that we need a WTO agreement in which there would be better market access and reduced export subsidies and to argue the points that would benefit Canadian farmers. Where were these two ministers? Sitting in the House here today and neglecting their responsibility to the farm community of this country.

When it comes to agriculture, I could go through a list of six items, but I want to deal specifically with Bill C-11. The fact is the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and the new government as a whole have failed miserably when it comes to dealing with the problems in the farm community.

The claim by the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities that farmers will realize an annual saving of $50 million is contradicted by his own news release. This means that the Government of Canada cannot stand by the figure it initially proclaimed as going to farmers in terms of a rate reduction and for this reason alone, these provisions of the bill do not merit support.

However, the FRCC has been more than forthcoming with respect to its position with respect to the costs of maintaining the fleet for producers, and this position has been supported by the findings of the CTA in a submission to Transport Canada on March 29, 2005. That document makes absolutely clear that the two major railways, Canadian National and Canadian Pacific, have been actively and intentionally overcharging, in other words gouging, farmers for more than a decade, and the government continues to support that gouging.

The House resumed from September 19 consideration of the motion that Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Transportation ActGovernment Orders

September 19th, 2006 / 5:25 p.m.
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Liberal

David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to come back to a theme that I have raised now on two or possibly three occasions with the government this afternoon as we pursue the debate of Bill C-11.

The minister spoke this morning very clearly and referenced two or three times that the bill would have environmental implications. My colleague highlighted GO Transit and the notion of public transit support in his riding. We even heard that his wife takes the train, which is a good thing.

I want to raise the fact that there seems to be a disconnect here. On the one hand the government is speaking now about a new environmental platform, apparently rejecting 13 years of our work in this field. This is somewhat exaggerated. There is also a tax deductible transit pass, which does not seem to be supported by the economists.

Where does the bill in any way talk about environmental objectives, including greenhouse gases?

Canada Transportation ActGovernment Orders

September 19th, 2006 / 5:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to speak today on the important changes to the Canada Transportation Act in Bill C-11, changes that will help improve the environment for passenger rail services, preserve valuable rail infrastructure in urban areas, and make communities served by railways more livable.

I would like to begin by speaking briefly on the history of CN Rail and the important role it has played in the lives of Canadians for nearly a century. The Canadian National Railway has mirrored the history of Canada for more than eight decades. The company's roots lie in the turmoil and disillusionment that accompanied World War I. In the 1920s and 1930s, CN's fortunes reflected the peaks and valleys of the Canadian economy. During World War II, CN, like Canadians themselves, met challenges that could not have been predicted even a few years earlier.

In the decades after the war, Canada became a supplier of resources to the world, resources such as lumber, which we dealt with earlier today, grain, sulphur, potash and petroleum products, and CN carried them. In the 1990s, when the North American economy became more integrated, CN followed suit as it expanded its U.S. presence and took a north-south orientation.

Because CN was for more than 70 years a government owned railroad, it had a social role in the life of the country as well as an economic one. This role is exemplified by narrow gauge freight and passenger services across Newfoundland, by mixed trains on low density branch lines, and by passenger cars used for schooling and medical services in remote parts of Ontario and Quebec.

There is no doubt that CN and the railways of Canada represent an integral and important part of our history as Canadians. Bill C-11 recognizes the great importance of our railways and focuses on achieving a balance between the modern interests of communities, consumers, commuters and urban transit authorities with those of today's railway carriers.

I would like to highlight the bill's proposed changes in the railway aspects of the bill. The proposed changes to the Canada Transportation Act will help ensure that our railways remain innovative, strong and healthy in the 21st century.

The bill looks at existing policy and regulations from an urban quality of life perspective to see if we can make them work better on behalf of our cities and our communities. At a time when Canadians are increasingly concerned about rising energy prices, particularly prices paid at the gasoline pumps, I am very pleased to be able to say that the proposed amendments will contribute to the well-being of urban transit services as well as intercity passenger rail services like GO Transit and VIA Rail.

Through a number of amendments to the CTA, the government is introducing several measures that will benefit the passenger rail services that are critical for the movement of the growing number of commuters in my community and throughout the GTA with and between our largest urban centres. For example, on the average workday in Burlington alone, between 70 and 80 passenger trains pass through Burlington's three GO stations and one CN station. Nearly 90% of all trains that pass through Burlington carry passengers.

The government recognizes the benefits of providing publicly funded passenger rail services such as those operated by VIA Rail across Canada, the Metro in Montreal, the O-Train here in Ottawa and the GO Train in Burlington through to Toronto and the east side of Toronto.

The government also recognizes that because these services are essentially government mandated, the operating entities may encounter difficulties in negotiating on even terms with the host railways over those infrastructures they operate. To this end, the amendments to the CTA will include new dispute resolution provisions clearly aimed at public passenger services.

Currently, the only recourse available to the CTA for public passenger providers for resolving rate and service disputes with the railways is final offer arbitration. The new provision would replace the existing final offer arbitration provision that became available to commuter and other publicly funded passenger rail operators in 1996. However, passenger rail that is not publicly funded would continue to have no recourse in the final offer arbitration system.

The new recourse will improve access to rail infrastructure for public passenger services, under commercially reasonable terms. The government strongly encourages VIA Rail and commuter rail authorities to conclude commercial agreements with infrastructure owners. However, when commercial negotiations are unsuccessful, which does happen on occasion, these public passenger service providers will be able to seek adjudication from the Canadian Transportation Agency on terms and conditions of operation on federal rail lines, including fees and services charged by that host railway.

Further, since the contracts are entered into by public bodies, in the interest of greater transparency, the amendments of the CTA will require that such agreements are made public for the first time. As such, any future contracts between public passenger service providers and federally regulated railways will be made public. Existing amendments will also be made public unless one of the parties can demonstrate, to the satisfaction of the agency, that the contract contains commercially sensitive information and that it would be harmed by its release.

The government also recognizes that preserving surplus rail corridors for subsequent use by urban transit is of growing interest in large urban centres, including my own centre of Burlington. Often these corridors represent the only land available for transportation uses.

Presently a railway can discontinue operations on a surplus rail line only after it has followed the notification and advertisement steps prescribed in the CTA. The objective of these provisions is to promote the takeover of lines of new owners or operators in place of service abandonment.

When a railway is no longer required for freight service, it must first be offered for continued railway operations, then must be offered to federal, provincial and municipal governments for a price that is no greater than the net salvage value. This approach to corridor evaluation will be retained.

However, under the current transfer and discontinuance provisions of the CTA, urban transit authorities, which in some urban areas serve several municipalities, including mine, have no right to receive such offers from railways. In the interest of protecting valuable corridors that may be required for urban transit, the CTA will be amended to require an offer of sale to urban transit authorities before municipal governments.

Also, the current provisions do not apply to railway spurs and sidings, some of which could sufficiently serve the needs of commuter rail services. Nor do the present provisions apply to passenger railway stations. The amendments would require the railways to offer these segments in urban areas and passenger railway stations to governments and urban transit authorities, not for more than the net salvage value, before removing them from service.

As I noted earlier, the CTA currently requires that no interest has been expressed in the purchase of a line for continued rail operation. A railway company must offer to transfer the line to governments for not more than its salvage value. A government interested in purchasing the line must advise the railway company in writing that it accepts the offer. If the government and the railway company cannot agree on the net salvage value of the line, either party can apply to the agency for a determination of such value. In other words, the government is required to accept and bind itself to the purchase offer without knowing the purchase price.

The proposed amendments to these provisions in the bill will improve the notification processes to governments, urban transit authorities and agencies at certain stages of transfer and discontinuance of the process. As well, the amendments will allow a government of an urban transit authority to seek a determination of the net salvage value from an agency when it receives an offer from a railway and before it binds itself to an offer of purchase. Again, this is transparency. This will provide a government and an urban transit authority the necessary information to decide whether it is the right business decision, whether they want to purchase the line or not.

This is one area that is important to me in this bill and important to my area of Burlington and Halton and of the urban transit issues that we face every day.

Another area in the bill that is very important to me, and I have been dealing with on an ongoing basis, particularly this summer, is noise, and noise is addressed for the very first time in the act.

At the outset, I noted these amendments would introduce measures that would make communities such as mine served by railways more livable.

Over the past several years, some members of the House have heard community concerns, and I have heard that from a number of speeches here today, about railway noise and the Federal Court of Appeal decision of December 2000, which ruled that the agency had no jurisdiction to entertain complaints relating to noise from the operating of federally regulated railways, and that is about to change in the act.

A large number of Canadian communities are home to railway operations and disputes can arise from railway noise between residents and communities and railway companies. While citizens adversely affected by noise from railway operations can make a formal complaint to the company through a 1-800 number, which I have received and passed out many times, or seek civil action through the courts, no federal body is mandated to regulate railway noise.

Proposed changes to the bill authorize the Canadian Transportation Agency to review noise complaints for the very first time and, if required, order railway companies to make changes to reduce reasonable noise when constructing or operating railway and railway yards. The agency must be satisfied that the parties were unable to reach a settlement voluntarily of the dispute on their own, which of course is the preference of everyone.

The Railway Association and the CPR have established voluntary mechanisms with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to address noise and other complaints stemming from the proximity to railway operations.

The government applauds and encourages this voluntary approach for resolving these often contentious matters, which I have had this summer in my riding.

However, the government also wants to ensure the agency, and I support this, has the authority to resolve noise complaints if a voluntary settlement is not achievable. The agency is well-positioned to strike a balance between operational needs of the railway, with which I think we all agree, and the expectation of communities and those who live beside the railways not to be subjected to unnecessary and unavoidable inconvenience.

The amendments would require railways not to cause unreasonable noise when constructing and operating a railway, taking into consideration the requirements of operation, services and interests of affected communities.

I want to pause for a moment and talk about a specific example in my riding. GO Transit is adding a whole new line, a new track through my riding of Burlington to Toronto, to provide us with ongoing, everyday, all-day GO Train service. As a GO Train user this summer and over a number of years my wife has used GO Train to Toronto on a daily basis when she works in downtown Toronto, it is a very important thing. The people who live in Burlington understand the need for an expanded GO Train service to Burlington, but do they need to have the railway constructed in the middle of the night with no notice? That is what has happened over the summer.

This past week I had the fortunate opportunity to meet with railway officials, their communications people, their construction people. They freely admit that there are no rules and regulations, that they are basically able to do whatever they want, whenever they want, and that is the way the law is.

The new changes that we are proposing in this bill do make changes on the noise side to give us some authority to ensure that, at the bare minimum, the people who are affected on a daily basis due to the changes, the growth in railway, get an opportunity to comment on it. Whether they get to stop it is a different story, but at least they have the knowledge, they have the right to know what is happening in their backyard. I am looking forward to seeing the bill pass so we can start working on those issues.

The agency has been given the statutory power to provide guidelines for what it will consider in deciding on noise complaints, elaborate measures on the noise resolution and require complaints to demonstrate that all voluntary measures are exhausted.

We first want to ensure that the citizens and the railway contact and communicate with each other to ensure they cannot find a solution on their own. They will investigate noise complaints and order railways to take appropriate action to prevent unreasonable noise, taking into consideration the requirements of railway operation and the interests of affected communities.

The amendments I have outlined today go a long way in improving passenger rail service across the country, preserving valuable railway infrastructure in urban areas such as mine and reducing railway noise and complaints in ridings such as Burlington.

Ultimately these measures will reduce congestion in our urban areas and make our transportation system more environmentally sustainable. Not only are we adding railway lines in our area, but the tax incentive for people to get out of their cars, to use GO Transit and to take the mass transit system to Toronto has been a tremendous support to Burlington and to the people of my riding.

We want to improve the quality of life of those who have to live beside the railway lines. They understand that they are there for a reason, that they do have a good public role. However, they also need to be dealt with respectfully and in a reasonable manner. The changes to the CTA will make that happen.

I have been listening very actively today. All parties seem to indicate that they are willing to send this to committee, which is what I would like to see done, where it will be reviewed and some changes may or may not be made. It has had significant consultation. Our friends from the official opposition have said a number of times today that the bill has come to us a couple of times in different formats.

Let us get on with it. Let us get it passed. Let us get it to the transportation committee. If there are any amendments, let us hear them and deal with them appropriately. Let us start helping those people in the urban areas who are affected by transit needs on an everyday basis.

Canada Transportation ActGovernment Orders

September 19th, 2006 / 5 p.m.
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Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on his excellent speech. Although we support Bill C-11, some elements missing from this bill would be of greater help to our fellow citizens in coping with the overpopulation of the train, which is actually an important ecological means of preventing greenhouse gases. Our fellow citizens often complain about vibrations and blocked intersections. But we do not find these elements in the bill, elements that could have been included.

I would like my colleague to tell me why, in his opinion, this bill did not include these elements, which are of major importance.

Canada Transportation ActGovernment Orders

September 19th, 2006 / 5 p.m.
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Bloc

Robert Carrier Bloc Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel for his question.

Indeed, Bill C-44 contained a whole chapter on VIA Rail, to facilitate better performance and ensure improved service everywhere. However, as you know, the bill did not reach the second reading stage during the last session, and all of the thoughtful work and careful study of the bill led nowhere.

We regret that this is still not the case, despite the fact that certain elements of Bill C-11 are important and should be passed. Nevertheless, I share the hon. member's concerns regarding the fact that important aspects of Bills C-26 and C-44 are still missing.

In the meantime, the development of our rail system has suffered and been put in danger because more significant decisions and bills are not being adopted to develop this transportation system.

Canada Transportation ActGovernment Orders

September 19th, 2006 / 5 p.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Alfred-Pellan for his wonderful address. I have had the opportunity to sit with the hon. member on the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. My question for my colleague is simple.

Several members from the Conservative government tell us today that considerable consultation took place and that the proposed bill is a result of that consultation. It is true that considerable consultation took place for Bill C-44, but not for Bill C-11, since consultations are about to begin for this new bill.

In Bill C-44, there was an entire chapter on VIA Rail. I would like my colleague from Alfred-Pellan to describe his experiences in committee during the last Parliament. In fact, Conservative members exerted tremendous pressure to ensure that everything to do with VIA Rail never come to fruition. All of the Conservatives were against developing VIA Rail. This clearly affects Quebec directly, given the rapid rail project for the Quebec City-Windsor corridor.

I would like my colleague from Alfred-Pellan to explain the situation in relation to Bill C-44 from the previous session.

Canada Transportation ActGovernment Orders

September 19th, 2006 / 4:45 p.m.
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Bloc

Robert Carrier Bloc Alfred-Pellan, QC

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.

Canada Transportation ActGovernment Orders

September 19th, 2006 / 4:40 p.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question for the member fo rLévis—Bellechasse will be simple. He talks to us about his good government. I have a question for him about Bill C-44.

The Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities told us today that what was proposed in Bill C-44 has been incorporated virtually word for word. So why does this Bill C-11 not contain the VIA Rail component that was in Bill C-44 and that was the gateway to developing high-speed train service from Quebec City to Montreal and Montreal to Windsor?

I would like the member to explain why his good government, once again, has decided to disregard Quebec’s interests, not to discuss them, not to include in this bill what VIA Rail was asking for—to become a real company that could bring about real development. I would like the member to explain this for me.

Canada Transportation ActGovernment Orders

September 19th, 2006 / 4:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-11, introduced by my hon. colleague, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.

This bill would update the Canada Transportation Act of 1996. It is the result of extensive consultations and its basic purpose is to improve the act by enhancing transportation safety and transparency, by reducing inconveniences to users—in terms of noise as we saw earlier—and by protecting the consumer, who uses the modes of transportation.

Today my presentation will focus more on air transportation. There are businesses in Lévis—Bellechasse that regularly ship products manufactured in the area.

There are amendments that would protect the rights and entitlements of the air travelling public by ensuring that air carriers will always represent their products in an open and transparent manner. This afternoon we saw that sometimes there are hidden costs. Air carriers are currently being more transparent on a voluntary basis. The industry is taking steps in the right direction, but this government must not derogate its responsibility to the air travelling public. It therefore proposes to amend the act, to permit its administrator, the Canadian Transportation Agency, to develop, implement and enforce regulations on the recommendation of the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, if necessary, to ensure transparency in the pricing of passenger air services.

The amendments in the bill would make clear the government's expectations with regard to the air carrier industry. These amendments would be in keeping with initiatives in the U.S. and Europe that are also designed with transparency in mind.

The proposed approach is also consistent with the broader strategic thrust of this government to legislate only when necessary and to make carriers accountable.

The amendments would also require all operators providing commercial air services in Canada to prominently display their terms of carriage at their business offices and on any Internet site from which they sell these air services. Many travellers buy their tickets on the Internet. It is important to ensure that when a price is posted, it is in fact the price the traveller will pay. That is how this will work.

There is another addition.

There are amendments that would make clear that Canada is wholly committed to all of its trading relationships in international air services. The amendments would ensure that an international agreement or convention respecting air services would have prevalence over the Competition Act in the event of an inconsistency or conflict between the two. Canada is a trading nation and so the government believes it is imperative that Canada's partners can rely on their air transport trading relationships with us. These amendments would send that signal.

Lastly, Mr. Speaker, there are amendments that would ensure that air services provided on behalf of the Canadian Armed Forces or in the case of a declared emergency are not subject to part II of the Act. Part II of the Act provides the framework for commercial air services. Military aircraft are sometimes used in humanitarian missions and, consequently, should be exempt in such cases.

It is only sensible to distinguish that air services provided for our nation's armed forces, or in the case of a declared emergency, are not regular nor for-profit occurrences. Therefore the provision of these types of air services should not be covered by the act. In that sense these amendments would bring clarity to such situations, and should be considered housekeeping measures that ensure the continued relevance of this act.

We are proposing these amendments because they would ensure a higher degree of transparency and consumer recourse, as well as bring clarity to its application. Also they make the complaints process simpler and more efficient by integrating it into the Canadian Transportation Agency's permanent functions. In this way, the amendments to the air transportation provisions in the act contribute to building a modern, efficient transportation system, which is integral to the well-being of Canada's economy.

At the same time, the amendments would continue to allow air carriers to develop and grow based on the merits of the choices they make in the course of doing business.

In conclusion, the proposed amendments reflect this government's commitment to a competitive air transportation system; one that balances the need to update statutory and regulatory instruments, where necessary, to respond to developments in the air industry marketplace, with the responsibility to ensure that consumers are aware of their rights and entitlements.

A vote was taken in this House today on softwood lumber. Our government is taking action. I believe that Canadian taxpayers, our constituents and parliamentarians want a government that works and that is up to the challenge. This bill will improve the Canada Transportation Act and give results.

Parliamentarians are asked to take concrete action. People expect parliamentarians to be up to the challenge and want them to ensure that our government functions as efficiently as possible with the utmost respect for democracy.

This government believes that these amendments to the Canada Transportation Act are warranted, will give the Canadian Transportation Agency the ability to continue to serve the air travelling public, and will ensure that Canada continues to have a viable and competitive air services industry in the years to come.

My speech focused mainly on air transportation, but there are many aspects to this bill. It aims to solve the problem of noise pollution caused by rail, and proposes measures to improve safety and to protect consumers who travel by plane.