Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in the House to speak to Bill C-52, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act (administration, air and railway transportation and arbitration). This topic has been a very important one for my constituents and for people across rural communities and, particularly, western Canada.
Before I go further, I want to acknowledge the hard work of my colleague, the member for Trinity—Spadina, who for years has been a real advocate when it comes to fairness in the transportation industry. She has worked very hard on reforming this act, in particular, and bringing the NDP position forward.
The NDP position is fundamentally one of seeking fairness and a fair playing field for those who depend on rail service as part of their work, business and industry and, very important, the communities that depend on fair rail service to ensure their employers and industries are dealt with appropriately.
We in the NDP have made it clear that we support the bill at this point, but we believe it must be strengthened as we go forward. We are not pleased with the delays that the government has allowed and also the kind of cowering we have seen from it, which is not a surprise, to major corporate interests in this field.
As we know, the proposed bill will give rail freight customers or shippers the right to service agreements with rail companies. It also puts in place a Canadian Transportation Agency-led arbitration process for failed negotiations and penalties for those who violate the arbitration results.
Key amendments that the shipping company pushed for and that were championed by the NDP were unfortunately defeated in the committee. Without these rejected amendments, we believe the bill remains a partial success for the shippers and it must be strengthened in the future.
It is important that we indicate to stakeholders and to the government that this is not a done deal. As with anything, but particularly when we talk about this area, the bill needs to be further strengthened.
Bill C-52 partially addresses the fact that rail freight customers, known as shippers, have been suffering from insufficient freight services stemming from the abuse of market power by the large rail companies.
The Conservative government has finally tabled legislation, after years of talking and inaction, to address the fact that many shippers cannot even get a service agreement as rail companies have not been willing to negotiate.
As the bill only covers new service agreements, current agreements and contract violation, which are all a major source of revenue loss for shippers, are not affected by Bill C-52.
Certainly in terms of the stakeholders that have been involved, I would like to read into the record some of the stakeholders who have spoken out in support of the NDP broader position, which is that the act must be strengthened.
I recognize that the wish for this act to be strengthened comes in large part from people who work in the mining industry. As someone representing an area that depends on mining and as someone who is proud to say that I come from and live in a mining town, I recognize that in order to ship the ore and the goods that are needed for the mining industry to both do its job and to export its product, fair rail services are essential.
The Mining Association of Canada, as represented by Pierre Gratton, indicated:
Although MAC appreciates the government's initiative through Bill C-52, it is our view that the bill, unless amended, will not deliver on the government's promise...“to enhance the effectiveness, efficiency and reliability of the entire rail freight supply chain”.
Coming from western Canada, I share with many of my colleagues from there the understanding and the clear recognition of the importance of agriculture in our region, particularly agriculture when it comes to grain production. I want to read the message that was brought forward by the Grain Growers of Canada, as represented by Richard Phillips. He noted:
I think what we're looking at here is the level of service and timeliness of service to meet our sales commitments. That's what we're really talking about. [...] When Pulse Canada was down in Colombia and we'd just signed a deal there, we were looking forward to increased exports to Colombia, and the Colombians said they weren't sure they'd actually buy anything more from us because they couldn't get reliable enough delivery of product on time.
Clearly there is a concern about our ability to export. These are clearly serious concerns brought forward by our clients when it comes to reliability and timeliness of exports of a fundamental product, which is grain. That is unacceptable. It is a clear indication of why it is absolutely essential that we not see this as a "done deal" as such, but that we understand it is something that needs to go forward. We must continue to listen to stakeholders and seek a truly fair system when it comes to the rail service provided in our country.
As someone who is proud to come from western Canada, I want to read into the record the words of the Western Canadian Shipper's Coalition, as represented by Ian May. He noted:
Since the government committed to the legislation, we've heard that service has improved. I can tell you that it hasn't. I can tell you that as recently as two weeks ago we had mills just about shut down because they couldn't get boxcars in western Canada, and not just one. Whether that's coincidental with a broader understanding of Bill C-52 and perhaps the fact that it is balanced versus a shipper bill that would have levelled the playing field—and that's our language—I don't know.
The Western Canadian Shipper's Coalition, a very inclusive coalition and one that has a great deal of clout in Western Canada, is clearly stating that the bill does not go far enough, that there are serious problems in the kind of rail service that is provided and that they are getting a raw deal. That concerns me a great deal. In the last few years, and certainly since I have had the honour of being a member of Parliament for northern Manitoba, it is clear to me, day by day, the way in which people in my part of the country are getting a raw deal from the government.
I want to indicate the cutbacks to Via Rail, for example, have directly impacted the people of northern Manitoba and will continue to impact as tourism picks up in the summer. The people who are affected are those who live on the Bayline and in Churchill, who depend on reliable, quality rail service provided by Via Rail.
I also want to indicate the lack of imagination and commitment to another transportation hub, which is the Port of Churchill. It is truly a gateway to Arctic trade and to opportunity, not just for Manitoba but for all of Canada. Yet the government has squandered opportunities to truly make investments. The gutting of the Canadian Wheat Board as we knew it played a major role in setting us back. As we know from last year, the shipments through the Port of Churchill are nowhere near where they ought to be.
I also want to indicate the government's failure to invest in an all-weather road network across northern Manitoba, something that could improve the quality of life of many first nations and Metis people in that part of the country, as well as the economic development opportunities.
Again, time after time, we are seeing a government being short-sighted toward the interests of northern, rural and western Canadians, and we see it in this bill that must go further. I agree with my colleagues that western, northern and rural Canadians deserve far better.