Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak about an important bill, Bill C-11, and the amendments that have been put forth to it.
Two amendments from the Senate are causing considerable problems, and I hope to contribute to derailing those amendments because they go against consumer interest groups.
One Senate amendment relates to airline industry accountability and information that would be provided on an airline ticket purchased by a consumer.
The other Senate amendment waters down the rights of residents who live adjacent to railroad properties and the ability of them to interact with some fairness with the rail operators and have them provide some accountability when it comes to their operations, particularly with respect to noise and vibrations. These problems are persistent across the country.
I want to speak about the railroad operations first. I will provide a couple of examples as to why it is so important that the amendments be defeated and how they are counter to the needs and wishes of people.
I cannot understand the Senate doing this, unless it does feel it is accountable to ordinary Canadians and their ability to enjoy of their residences next to railroads. There has to be a balance in this type of an equation. The balance is often against them by governments and the railway operations. Bill C-11 would have at least rectify some of those injustices they have faced over the years. We have heard in the debate today that there are many examples of this across the country.
I first became involved in one of the original railroad disputes in my political career back in 1997 when I was on city council. The federal government had a program at the time to eliminate rail operations that blocked roads. The government was to build bridges and overpasses.
That program was killed by the previous minister of finance, the member for LaSalle—Émard. It was a good infrastructure project, which has not been brought back. There would have been contributions by the federal government to create this separation of rail and traffic. It was very expensive, but very beneficial for the economy, productivity and also the environment. The program would eliminate idling and would have expedited rail and trucking operations.
Wellington Street in Windsor went down into what some people would call a ditch and a rail operation went over the top of the road. The road underpass was not tall enough to allow transport trucks to pass. Oftentimes many U.S. truckers drove down this roadway and would end up having the top of their truck ripped off. It became known as the Wellington can opener.
When the project finally received some funding of about $22 million, construction was to be undertaken to build around the site. First a bridge would be built to get the rails over top of a new span and then create the actual infrastructure underneath for the future. Adjacent to this area was a derelict rail yard. There had been a station there at one point. It had become a dumping ground of which the railway company never took care. It allowed the weeds and grass grow out of control. It had also become a dumping ground for tires and so forth. The area was never cleaned up and the city was constantly fighting over it. It is important to note that the railway was complicit with the city at that time.
While I was on council, I lost a vote ten to one to allow concrete recycling for the construction to take place on that site. The site was the size of a football field and filled with material and concrete that was ripped up and dumped in the field. The waste was about four stories tall.
Adjacent to that was one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Windsor West. It had modest homes and working class families. The neighbourhood had pools and parks. A number of houses were adjacent to this site. Originally the city had agreed to set up a temporary four storey tall concrete recycling operation across the street and down wind. As a community group, we had to fight to reverse council's decision and get the railroad to agree to stop the dumping at this site. It was a big battle.
It was unfair to the constituents of that area because for years they had fought about that. This is another issue not only in terms of pollution, with diesel engines sitting on the tracks for hours and not moving, but also in terms of the vibrations that affect their homes.
I want to point out another example, a more recent one that happened while I was in the House of Commons. It proves the arrogance and unbelievable neglect in terms of community consultation.
In 2003 the VACIS, a gamma X-ray technology, was introduced in the city of Windsor along the rail corridors. At that time, the Liberal government was in power. It did not even consult with the municipality. In consultation with CP Rail and the Department of Homeland Security, it was unilaterally decided to put this X-ray technology system right next to the football field of a local high school.
Further compounding that, as the trains went through the gamma X-ray technology, they had to slow down from 25 to 7 kilometres an hour. Also, about 200 yards before that was a rail crossing with no separation of grade. Trucks, cars, buses and people going to and from the school and the shopping malls were having to wait longer and longer. It was amazing. The city of Windsor had to file a lawsuit against CP Rail to stop it.
At that time, I asked the Liberal minister, Minister McLellan, about this and it was denied altogether. I had my constituency assistant take photographs of the actual equipment on site as it poured cement and graded the original infrastructure for this project. We had to fight the system. It was amazing that there was no consultation whatsoever, and the consequences are significant.
That is why these amendments fly in the face of the type of things that need to happen to make rail operations more accountable to people. We only have to talk to different people in different ridings to understand that conflicts routinely happen. It is the citizens who generally feel, even though the circumstances are different, powerless and helpless. Finally, when Bill C-11 came forward, we had an opportunity to inject a bit of justice.
It is important to note that the recent history of some of the rail operations has been rather disturbing and troubling. This accountability is very much a significant step forward. It could have had a net benefit across the country.
It is fine that we had a debate in the House of Commons about back to work legislation. We have had a debate in the House about safety regulations. Now that we finally get an improvement, it is being taken away from us by the unelected senate. I find that unacceptable.
In my riding, and in many ridings, people probably do not even realize the amount of hazardous materials involved in rail operations and the different types of substance involved. They can affect the residents nearby.
Other countries have different practices for bringing greater accountability, and a good example is the United States. Railways were shipping chlorine gas through Dade county, Florida, which goes through our corridors as well. The country fought this and successfully had the chlorine gas rerouted to a non-urban area. Then later on, because of that whole debate, it eliminated the chlorine from the destination, which was a pollution control plant that did water treatment, for a more environmentally friendly product.
There are cases where some laws have been changed. Some of the cities across the United States have succeeded in having certain chemicals rerouted because of their concerns with the ecosystem and also the environment.
In fact, the Department of Homeland Security has declared some of these rail containers of chlorine to be weapons of mass destruction because they can literally, within a 15 mile radius, poison everybody in that area if there were an accident or a terrorist attack. That is why there has been this progression in the United States to move it away from urban areas or to look for other types of materials that would not have the type of danger associated with them.
My constituency has had to fight to get access to rail yards for first responders training and so forth. When we talk about very significant issues like that, which are still causing concern for people, and compare it to the minor step forward for which we are looking, a reasonable one, to establish a process so there will be greater accountability for noise and vibration and empowerment for citizens through mediation, why would we take that away? It is unbelievable and unacceptable.
This is something residents across the country really need to get their heads around. I cannot understand why we would allow an unelected body, which does not have to respond to the concerns of individuals, to decide to usurp a change that would have effectively provided residents a voice. I cannot understand why the government is going on along with that.
This is very much an issue that relates to people's personal property and their values. That is supposed to be the party that claims it has the high ground, understands personal wealth and that people should have protection. At the same time, it is taking away a very modest tool for people to fight back to ensure they can protect themselves, their property value and their communities.
On the issue of rail, it is really important that the amendment is put in the proper context. It is coming from an unelected body that will take away the rights we have fought for over a number of years. More important, I believe it will take away greater accountability on the rail system that would lead to less conflict between neighbourhoods and rail operations. There would be a mandate to try to solve those problems before they became larger issues. That would seem a more progressive approach, in my opinion, in dealing with this.
Rail operations have been in communities for many years without changing. They do not go away. The shunting, the noise and their operations continue. Residents and businesses also continue.
I want to touch briefly on the issue of the commercial airline tickets amendment. When we look at the Competition Bureau, the record of the previous administration and now this one with regard to updating the Competition Act, is based upon a 1969 philosophy.
The minister's briefing book, which I was able to obtain through the Freedom of Information Act, identified specifically that 40 years ago things were quite different and it needed to be updated. That was at the time of the Woodstock festival. The Competition Bureau and the Competition Act need a mandate that is more modernized.
Consumers should have more opportunity to see the real information about the price of a ticket. What they will receive should not be hidden by other charges, fees and expectations of service that are never delivered when they purchase their tickets.
I do not understand why there cannot be a set of rules around that which allow consumers to know this, especially given what has happened now with the Internet and other types of technology specific to the tourism industry. People are shopping more and more on the Internet for airline and vacation destinations. They do that with the openness and hope that there will be comparable factors. Why the Senate would buckle under the lobbying efforts and allow the industry to continue to hide charges, fees and so forth is beyond me.
What we want to do is create some openness so people can shop around for the best air carrier, knowing what they will get and selecting the price based upon that. If they want greater or reduced service, or if they want to know if there are any extra fees or charges, they should be available so they can make their selections based upon that.
Why would we want to take that away from consumers, especially in an industry where there have been a lot of complaints in the past about competition? We want the consumer to have the opportunity to make some decisions and have some authority and power.
These two amendments are very interesting in the sense that I believe they come about through lobby efforts. They come at the expense of civil liberties, which allow individuals to have more consumer protection, information and awareness. This is at a time when personal information is being harvested by many companies and organizations to be used against people in marketing and so forth. However, we cannot allow consumers to have the same openness that companies, which allows them to target individuals in their marketing. We are not going to allow that provision.
The second part is with regard to the railway system and that is extremely offensive. Bill C-11 is very important in that we do want to have some improvements but, at the same time, when we take away those two elements from the bill, it becomes much weaker. For that reason I believe we need to defeat the Senate amendments because it is important that consumers and neighbourhoods and communities are protected and, unfortunately, that is being reversed by the Senate amendments.