Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this House today to support Bill C-429, An Act to amend the Radiocommunication Act and the Telecommunications Act (antenna systems), introduced by the hon. member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant.
This bill is particularly important because it affects each and every one of our ridings. I am pleased that we have the opportunity to examine this issue today.
This bill seeks to legislate the implementation and construction process of antenna systems, and to ensure the balanced development of telecommunications antennas, among others, by involving local authorities in these processes.
As we know, the telecommunications industry is growing in Canada, and we all benefit from it because we can fully enjoy its services.
This industry is essential to ensuring that Canadian businesses remain competitive and that every citizen can remain in constant contact with people around him, both on a personal and professional level.
As members of Parliament, and given the importance of BlackBerrys, emails and other forms of communication in our daily lives, we are all very aware of the importance of the telecommunications industry in our lives and in the lives of our constituents.
However, we have to admit that the current development of telecommunications towers in Canadian municipalities is poorly managed, and that the regulatory framework established by Industry Canada is unable to meet the concerns of thousands of citizens and hundreds of municipal officials.
Indeed, Industry Canada's directive CPC-2-0-03, which governs the telecommunications industry, does not include any compulsory public consultations for the construction of towers less than 15 metres high, and does not require the involvement of local authorities in the implementation process of telecommunications antennas.
Moreover, while this directive includes sanctions for non-compliance with the established regulatory framework, it seems Industry Canada does not impose these sanctions on offenders.
In June, at the last convention of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities held in Saskatoon, I had the opportunity to attend a panel on telecommunications antennas in municipalities. The participants included Bernard Lord, Industry Canada officials and, of course, municipal councillors and mayors from all regions of the country. What I heard at that panel was not particularly good nor very flattering for Industry Canada, quite the contrary. There was a lot of frustration and discontent directed at Industry Canada officials and Mr. Lord.
All that frustration convinced me of the urgent need to review the existing regulations to better harmonize the implementation process of telecommunications antennas in our municipalities.
Bill C-429 seeks to respond to the frustrations felt by citizens and municipal officials by regulating the siting and construction of antenna systems, while also democratizing the process by involving the land-use authorities, that is the municipalities, as well as citizens in the decision-making process.
First of all, this bill simplifies the application process for the shared use of antenna sites by telecommunications companies, in order to limit the unnecessary proliferation of new towers in our municipalities, which seems to be happening all across Canada.
Bill C-429 also grants the CRTC oversight power and the authority to rule on disputes regarding tower sharing, which will have the advantage of creating a single forum independent of government to resolve any disputes that arise between telecommunications companies.
In addition, the bill compels these companies to hold public consultations before constructing any tower, regardless of its height, except in cases where the construction will not hurt anyone.
For instance, my riding of Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier has some very isolated, rural municipalities. I am thinking of places like Rivière-à-Pierre, where there is no cellular service. No companies serve that region. I can assure you that the people of Rivière-à-Pierre would very much like to have a telecommunications tower in order to have cellular service in their municipality. I have no doubt that that exception would easily apply in that municipality, since there is an urgent need there.
Lastly, Bill C-429 would also require proponents to consult the local land-use authority, namely the municipality, in order to determine the local requirements and ensure that the siting of a telecommunications antenna fits in with the municipality's local development plans.
When we talk about local requirements, we are talking about a public consultation process that has already been established by the authority, discussions regarding possible tower locations and the response to reasonable and relevant concerns of the municipality and community involved. Nothing outlandish is being requested—quite the contrary.
It is important to remember that land use falls under provincial jurisdiction and is delegated to the municipalities. It is necessary to ensure that they are able to fully exercise their jurisdiction over their own land, and it is absolutely essential that antenna systems are developed collaboratively in keeping with the municipal or rural land use plan.
The purpose of the bill is certainly not to harm the industry, which is extremely important to Canada. What is more, there will not be any regulatory duplication, as some of the members opposite suggested. In fact, the existing requirements will be replaced with those set out in Bill C-429, so that particular problem will simply resolve itself once the bill is passed.
The bill introduced by the hon. member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant addresses a clear demand from municipalities and individuals who currently have no recourse at all when a telecommunications tower is erected in their municipality in a place that neither members of the community nor municipal officials find suitable.
This problem is not specific to the telecommunications industry. In fact, a number of other areas of exclusive federal jurisdiction are experiencing the same problem, since the government refuses to exercise its jurisdiction and regulate it fully, under the pretext that it does not want to harm the industry. However, the government is forgetting all the people who are directly affected by this, individuals and municipal officials, who have development plans for their cities and who, sometimes, in certain regions, have to protect farmland, which is becoming increasingly rare. All of these considerations need to be taken into account but are ignored in areas of exclusive federal jurisdiction.
I have in mind an example that affects my riding in particular, and that is the aerospace industry. The existing regulations for the construction of private airports are fairly similar to those in effect for telecommunications antennas. This area is largely unregulated, which means that private developers have a great deal of latitude and can pretty much do what they want at Canadians' expense.
Private airports, specifically, can be put anywhere in a zone considered undeveloped, without the need to consult with elected municipal officials and the public. For antennas over 15 metres it amounts to the same problem. There is the case of the unwanted construction of a private airport in Neuville. Despite opposition from hundreds of citizens and the municipal council, petitions, protests and multiple calls on Parliament to have the minister ask the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to conduct a study to address the harmonization issues between federal and provincial areas of jurisdiction, nothing has been done and the public has no protection or recourse. This is the same situation.
The protection of land and farmland, and land use are all exclusive provincial jurisdictions, but that fact is overlooked to the benefit of rich private developers, whether it is to build telecommunications antennas or airports. It is the same situation here, and it is a problem. That is why I thank the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant for introducing this kind of bill. He is forcing us to think about the needs of the provinces and municipalities and their responsibilities towards the public. It also enables us to better protect our own constituents, the people we represent.
Bill C-429 responds to a real need. I hope it will be supported by members of all the parties in the House. The public and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities clearly support my colleague's bill. I hope that members from each party will do the same.