Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for giving me the opportunity to voice the position of the Liberal Party, the former Government of Canada, on this bill.
I want to thank the parliamentary secretary for having had the elegance of thought to acknowledge that this bill was presented by the government of which I was a member and which saw another reincarnation as Bill C-58.
I think other members of both parties are probably equally thankful that the bill has seen its way not only through this House but also through committee. Witness, of course, the fact that report stage went through without comment and that we received, to all intents and purposes, the unanimous consent of all members of this House so that the bill could receive its third and final reading, be voted upon, be sent to the Senate, and be proclaimed.
Why would something like that happen? All members of Parliament have a special interest in ensuring that there is a rebalancing of the relationship between the railway companies and the shippers, be they large or small. More than anything else, I think that members of Parliament, at least from my party, the Liberal Party, the official opposition, has always looked for a balance in the relationship between those who need a particular service and those who provide that service.
The parliamentary secretary used the words “to reintroduce balance”. I thank him for thinking in terms of what needed to be done, and that is to restructure the relationship that had started to develop in a counterproductive way between the railway companies and the shippers. He noted in establishing that interest of balance that all the shippers want this and he is probably right.
Those who came before committee, those who lobbied him, that lobbied me, and that lobbied the Bloc, all said exactly the same thing. They all said that it was time that the relationship that has evolved between them needs to have the Government of Canada, through the agency, establish a relationship that would regenerate the competitiveness of the shipping industry and all those who buy our products.
What he really meant, I guess, is that without this bill we could see the competitiveness of many of our producing companies and those industries, be they agricultural, lumber, or mining, suffer at the hands of the negative impacts of the monopoly behaviour that had been established by the two monopolies in the railway industry that essentially put the shippers at their mercy.
It was not always this way. Obviously, there have been difficulties between the supplier of the service, the railway companies, and the shippers who need that service in order to get their product to the emerging markets that require Canadian produce and commodities.
What has happened over the passage of time is that the railways, as the parliamentary secretary has indicated, have established their position of predominance over the shippers that they serve. What is the result?
First of all, there has been an inconsistency in the predictability of the service required by the shippers, so that they in turn can provide for their own marketplace, a guarantee that their product will be delivered on time as prescribed by the contractual arrangement between the buyer of that commodity, usually abroad in the Pacific emerging markets, or even in the United States.
Second, that the price that was agreed to initially would suffer as a result of the delay, the ancillary services, and the other penalties that occur as a result of the railways not providing, as agreed, the kinds of services that had been contracted.
We have heard many stories in committee, many anecdotes, that have angered the shippers and, in turn, the small producers that feed into the shipping companies. As I say, whether they are farmers or lumber companies, all of them have faced great difficulties. They could not guarantee a price because they could not guarantee a time of delivery to the markets that they wanted to penetrate or they had in fact already developed.
The kind of relationship that the railways had established and imposed, in fact, upon the very people they purported to serve, proposed to serve and for whom they had made investments to serve had turned out to be counterproductive. It is counterproductive from a Canadian point of view, from a macro Canadian interest point of view, from the point of view of a Canadian economy that needs to grow and provide assurances for all of its markets that it is capable of producing a timely product with timely delivery, and a price that is competitive worldwide.
They have been unable to do that and so the parliamentary secretary calls this the shippers bill. It is more important than that. It is not just a bill that is important for shippers. It is important for the competitiveness of the Canadian economy.
As a result, we see that there are provisions in this bill to ensure that the monopolistic behaviour of the railway companies is moderated to the point that it is capable of delivery and what Canadians, through them, must have. They must have a guarantee of service at a predetermined price and in a timely fashion that will allow for a revenue stream to come back to the shippers and producers, so that they can then access the financing they, in turn, require in order to make investments in the production of said products.
It does not take much in terms of rocket science to appreciate that the bill is not a shippers bill. It is a bill for you, Mr. Speaker, it is a bill for all of us to ensure that which produces great wealth for Canada, that contributes to the positive side of the ledger in international trade is guaranteed.
We cannot put in jeopardy either our producers or shippers, the very people, the very production systems, the very industries that ensure that we will be able to generate wealth. We cannot put them in a precarious position and at the mercy of those who deliver their product from point A to point B.
That is absolutely crucial because now we are entering into the area of the viability of Canada's infrastructure. Given the great distances between not only our people but the source of those products and commodities and the markets, we need to be able to have an infrastructure that is reliable.
That does not mean simply having a road that is paved. It does not simply mean having a railway track that functions without incidents or accidents on as frequent a basis as we have seen. No, it means that we need to have that type of infrastructure function in an efficient and economic fashion that continues to regenerate the business which makes its existence mandatory.
What do we do with a bill like this one? As I said earlier, it received the support of all members of Parliament in committee and, I dare say, will receive the support of all members of Parliament in the House, unless, of course, some in the NDP decide that they want to filibuster.
They will receive the support of Canadians everywhere because, in effect, what will transpire is a new infrastructure of legislation to govern the mandates given to the railway companies and to the shippers as stewards of Canada's natural resource wealth, a wealth that needs to be materialized, realized and brought to fruition in foreign markets, so that Canadians can say, yes, this wealth will be distributed for the good of all citizens, one and all.
Mr. Speaker, the bill, as you already noted at second reading, was examined by members of the committee on your behalf very thoroughly, and I might add that, subsequent to the debate such as it was, there was no need to amend the bill.
Imagine, no need to amend the bill that saw its genesis in 2005 with the then Liberal administration, saw its regeneration again as Bill C-58 last May, and is now again before the House as Bill C-8 with not a change, not a comma, not a semicolon, not a capital at the beginning of a sentence, nothing.
Why? Because it has been a bill that has been thoroughly researched. The consultation has taken place with all of the stakeholders and even the railways have not objected as strenuously as one might expect from those who are compelled to do something with which they are, at least in the recent past, not familiar and that is equitable behaviour. But they see the wisdom of the legislation.
We will see that certain mechanisms in this bill, those clauses that ensure the balance is regenerated back between the shippers and the railway companies, are at the core of everything. When things are balanced out, everyone realizes that fairness is the basis for any relationship that develops as a result. What is fair? What is fair, of course, is that shippers contract to have their product taken from point A to a port where the railway companies will deliver the cars required or that product to be picked up at a time contracted so that everybody's expenses are diminished. That is fair.
Therefore, this bill says we are not going to dictate at which time, which day and under what circumstances said number of cars are going to be delivered, but if shippers contract to deliver said number of cars on said day at such and such a time, then railways must deliver and if they do not, there are commercial consequences in the appropriate court.
One might say, well one might say we would go to court anyway. Well, no, not when David is facing Goliath. The government has accepted the will of Parliament and we have decided no more David and Goliath relationship. We are going to ensure that the shippers are adequately protected in this unbalanced relationship.
If there is a price agreed, there shall be no changes to those prices unless companies have given at least a 30 day notice of same. We have seen this: prices subject to change without notice. That is good for those who benefit from that, but it is not good for those who project their business plan on the basis of a guaranteed price down the road. The railways have to give at least a 30 day notice that prices are going to be changed while still delivering the service which they have contracted to deliver.
It sound fair. The parliamentary secretary says that it is reintroducing balance. That is a backhanded way of saying the other guys have been taking an unfair advantage of a situation. Is that being critical? It should be. What else does it say?
My colleagues from the Bloc will recall that we had some discussion about ancillary services. What are they? In one instance, the railroad said that it had six points to consider. Another one, a shipper, pointed out that there are something like 30 to 60 items that are added on to a price.
One of our colleagues on committee said that it sounded a little bit like going in to buy a car, but after we have contracted the price the dealer says, by the way, if we want a motor it costs this much more, and if we want tires on every wheel, it costs this much more and so on. By the time we are finished, we might well be paying twice as much for the car as what we initially contracted.
Therefore, there is transparency of cost. There is transparency of the final price for the product that is being delivered, not necessarily by the shippers, because they already have to do that with their producers and the people over at the ports where they are going to deliver the material. It is something that the railways must be able to guarantee their shippers.
I think the minister agrees, because he put that into the bill. However, we need to make sure people understand that this is what balancing the relationship between railways and shippers is really all about. It is ensuring that no one takes undue advantage of a relationship of power that has developed over time.
As I said, the ultimate beneficiaries of course will be the Canadian public and the Canadian marketplace. If nothing else, it will mean that producers will get their product to market at a time when the market thinks it is appropriate to receive it.
It was not that long ago that in another capacity I was dealing with business people from China. We talked about buying Canadian product,and in particular, agricultural product. Their complaint was not so much that the Canadian product was not of exceptional quality. They really do enjoy Canadian quality. It was not so much that the price was not right, because of course it was.
However, they said, “What is the use of us buying good quality at the right price if we cannot get it to our market?” If our railways cannot deliver their product to the port of Vancouver or Prince Rupert in a timely fashion, what is the purpose of them putting their ships out off the port, wasting time, costing them money and redoubling the expectation of the price they needed to pay in the first place?
Under those circumstances, it does not do them any good to buy Canadian product. They might as well look for it some place else, they said, not because the product is not any good, not because it does not get delivered to port, but because it does not get delivered when they need it.
Therefore, if there is one criticism about all this, it is not that the bill itself will not be capable of delivering what it purports to deliver, but it highlights the importance of having an infrastructure program that includes this relationship as well as the physical infrastructure that must be put in place and which guarantees that the fruition we expect from this bill will be brought to bear and materialize down the road.
Whether it is in the Pacific gateway, as we have come to know the development of an infrastructure for delivery outside of Canadian borders out west, whether it is an Atlantic gateway, in the event that we have minerals and other products that need to go through the Great Lakes and out through the Maritimes, or whether it is in fact the gateway at the central part of the continent through Ontario, Quebec and the Great Lakes, we need to have an extension of the bill and the principles which it tries to address through the physical infrastructure that can only result in the continued growth of the Canadian economy.
As I said earlier, the bill does not punish anybody. The bill is designed to bring parties together so that the wealth of Canada, which contributes to the positive side of the foreign relations ledger in foreign trade, is an opportunity to be realized to its maximum.
I know that all members of this party, the official opposition, will vote in support of this bill at third reading for all of those principles that I have so humbly put forward. I know that the government is going to be supportive of this. I think even my good colleagues from the Bloc are going to be delighted to support it. All other good members may, but I urge all Canadians to get behind this bill.