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.