Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House today to support the amendments to Bill C-11 that the Senate passed and to explain why as well.
Bill C-11 primarily amends the Canada Transportation Act. The Senate amendments affect two provisions of C-11: one regulating railway noise and vibrations and one regulating airfare advertising. I will deal first with the so-called “noise” provisions.
The noise provisions give the Canadian Transportation Agency the authority to resolve disputes related to railway noise and vibrations. This is a great thing for Canadians. It has been hailed from Quebec through to the Atlantic provinces and all the way to British Columbia. A lot of people are looking forward to these amendments and that is why this government is moving forward with this agenda.
The agency used to adjudicate disputes related to noise vibrations and other nuisances. However, in December 2000 the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that the agency did not, that is correct, did not have the jurisdiction in such matters. As a result of that, it takes this government to bring clarification to the issue and Bill C-11 reinstates the agency's authority in this regard.
The amendments passed in the Senate deal with two elements that are at the heart of the noise provision. The first is the obligation that railways must live up to it and, indeed, the factors that are taken into consideration with respect to this obligation. There is also a coordinating amendment to the section that gives the agency the authority to hear a complaint and order corrective action, if warranted.
Bill C-11, as originally tabled in the House of Commons, proposed to add section 95.1 to the CTA. This section required that when constructing or operating a railway, a railway company “must not cause unreasonable noise”. It also specified three factors to be taken into consideration in determining whether or not this standard had been met. These factors include: the railways' level of service obligations under sections 113 and 114 of the act; the railway's operational requirements; and the area where the operation or construction takes place.
Members should take note of the third factor, the area where the operation or construction takes place, because I will be dealing with that.
Section 95.1 was amended based on recommendations from the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and the amendment consisted of three main elements. First, it extended the agency's authority to vibrations as well as noise. This is very important. As we are aware, people who live next to railways must deal with the constant vibrations of idling engines.
Second, it changed the railway's obligations from “not causing unreasonable noise” to “cause as little noise and vibration as possible”.
Third, it added a new factor, the potential impact on persons residing on properties adjacent to the railway. Coordinating amendments were also made to section 95.3 to reflect these changes.
Section 95.3 authorizes the agency to hear complaints and order the railway to take corrective measures. As I noted earlier, the Senate amendments change the obligation that is imposed on the railways. Under the Senate amendments, a railway “shall cause only such noise and vibration as is reasonable”.
In addition, the Senate dropped the factor that was added by the transport committee, the potential impact on persons residing in properties adjacent to the railway. I do not want anyone to get upset at that because we feel we have covered that in other amendments and with the original text. Coordinating amendments were made to section 95.3.
The government supports the Senate amendments for various reasons. It establishes an obligation based on “reasonableness” and, as all members of the House know, reasonableness is found in many sections of the law and many acts throughout this country. In fact, this is the same concept that was reflected in the original Bill C-11.
The concept of reasonableness, as I said, is found in hundreds and hundreds of acts and has been judicially interpreted on countless occasions, so there is no question as to what judges will do once they find the issue of reasonableness as coming into consideration. These interpretations make an obligation based on “reasonableness” a lot easier to understand and circumscribe than one based on “as little as possible”, which has very limited use in federal legislation.
The expression “least possible noise” was used in Bill C-26 in 2003, a predecessor of Bill C-11. It was changed in the next version of the bill in 2005 to reflect the notion of reasonableness because this is a concept that is used consistently in Canadian legislation.
Furthermore, it is a concept that the agency must apply on a daily basis. That is correct, on a daily basis. There are over 30 references to the word “reasonable” or “unreasonable” in the existing Canada Transportation Act.
A review of the agency's previous decisions on noise complaints clearly indicates that the agency applied the concept of reasonableness in rendering its decision. It is a concept with which the agency is very familiar and of course judges are familiar with it. In conclusion with respect to this, an obligation based on “reasonableness” is preferred to one based on “as little as possible”. That obviously makes sense.
The government also supports the Senate's amendment that drops “the potential impact on persons residing in properties adjacent to the railway” when determining if a railway is fulfilling its obligations. This is very important but it is already included in the act.
The “area where the operation or construction takes place” will remain as one of the three factors. I will repeat that because it is very important: the area where the operation or construction takes place. The government believes that this factor is broad enough to include the impact on persons living in homes or apartments adjacent to the railway. It is inconceivable that the agency would not take this into consideration.
Finally, the government supports the coordinating amendment to section 95.3 which brings the section into line with the amended language in section 95.1.
The amendments to the Canada Transportation Act passed by the Senate also affect air transportation.
This is such an important bill. That is why we are so happy to have some of our friends from the opposition support us on this endeavour.
Bill C-11 will improve protection for air travellers by requiring the agency to prescribe regulations on airfare advertising. The guidelines and objectives of the government regarding airfare advertising are clearly set out in legislation and will assist the agency to develop adequate regulations.
In the version of this bill tabled by the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in May 2006, the provision on airfare advertising indicated that regulations may be developed by the agency “on recommendation of the minister”. The bill was subsequently amended following testimony before the standing committee last fall removing this particular stipulation and was adopted by the House on February 28.
Earlier in May the Senate committee on transport and communications heard from a number of witnesses from the air and rail industries. The committee supported the amendments regarding airfare advertising that were adopted by this House. That was good.
However, the committee also felt strongly that this particular provision should come into force at a later date, one determined by the governor in council. This is reflected in the amendment to the bill, a new clause 64, relating to the coming into force of the airfare advertising provisions.
The Senate committee was of the view that further consultation should take place between government, the airline industry and other interested parties, such as consumer advocacy groups in Canada, before advertising regulations are developed by the agency.
Very clearly we consult stakeholders on a continuous basis. We make sure that we listen to them and act on their suggestions.
The government agrees that additional consultations across Canada will help to ensure on a consistent and timely basis that all information and views are received and the development of the regulations would take into account the views of all stakeholders, as we usually do on this side of the House.
This government wishes to ensure that consumers are offered clear choices, so that they know what they are buying before they buy it, as it relates to advertising of air travel by airlines. The government is very aware of consumers' concerns that airfare advertising be clear, transparent and not at all misleading to consumers. Consumers have told us on a consistent basis that they want to be able to compare different airlines' advertised prices and to know up front how much they will pay for any air service that they wish to buy.
The additional time for consultation and review will be well used. We believe that these new amendments are excellent.
In closing, I urge all members to support Bill C-11 as amended by the Senate. Stakeholders were first consulted on amendments to the CTA in the year 2000 and after seven years they are very anxious for this bill to be passed, preferably before the summer recess.
I have one more point that is very important. This bill provides for a one time adjustment to the grain revenue caps. That is expected to save western farmers $2 per tonne, or more than $50 million per year. This government is standing up for farmers. Any delay to the passage of this bill will preclude the farmers from getting this money. We support this bill and we would hope that all other members come forward and support it as well.