Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Parkdale—High Park for her excellent speech and her responses to the people who asked her questions. I am always impressed by what a fine job she does as finance critic. I am convinced that Canada would be much better off if she were Minister of Finance today.
I rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-52, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act (administration, air and railway transportation and arbitration), which comes to us from the office of the Minister of Transport, who is also one of my riding neighbours.
I want to say that, although the NDP and I are preparing to support this bill, which is a step in the right direction, we found the government's closed-mindedness during the study in committee unfortunate.
As opposition members, both Liberal and New Democrat, we put forward amendments that were supported by witnesses and experts in the field, and the Conservatives systematically voted against them.
I also want to congratulate my colleague from Trinity—Spadina on the incredible job she does as transport critic. Seriously, I would immediately substitute her for the minister from Roberval, who is the Minister of Transport, and transit in Canada would be much better for it.
To get to the heart of the matter, for those not familiar with this bill, I want to say that it partly addresses the problems of railway transportation service customers that do not have access to adequate service as result of the monopoly held by the major railway companies.
However, since the bill covers only new service agreements, current agreements and contract breaches, which are major causes of revenue losses for shippers, are not affected by Bill C-52. That is one of its deficiencies. We would have liked to remedy that in the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, but that was not done.
I will mainly address three points, given the time I have today.
First, Canada's shippers deserve fair, reliable railway transportation service that is worth what they pay. The need to strengthen the shippers' position against the monopoly of CN and CP is only partially addressed in Bill C-52, as I mentioned.
The six recommendations from shippers, in committee, were reasonable, practical and modest. That is why we proposed them. Yet the Conservatives rejected them without even considering them. I will elaborate on this later.
There are other areas that need improving.
I would like to stress that the NDP, especially the member for Trinity—Spadina, the NDP transport critic, will continue to work with shippers. Shippers shared their concerns with us, and it is clear that despite the passage of this bill, this file will not be closed.
We are going to continue to work alongside shippers to improve Bill C–52 and address the problem of excessive prices caused by a lack of competition. This is a problem, for which the Conservatives are to blame, because we know that they are in bed with the lobbyists for the major rail companies.
Personally, I believe that the bill is biased. The Conservative government has acted shamelessly. It could have taken a closer look at the bill and what shippers wanted instead of systematically siding with the rail lobby.
Shippers are often SMEs. I stand up for SMEs. My riding is located in rural Quebec, in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean. The main industries in the region, for those who are not aware, are forestry and aluminum production. The Niobec mine, not to mention agriculture, can also be found in my riding. All of these products can be shipped by rail.
This bill and the future of Canada's railways directly affect me. At the end of the day, the more that is done to improve the rail network, the stronger the economy that uses this mode of transportation will be. Rail transportation is far more environmentally friendly than transportation by truck.
Concerning my first point, many shippers are not satisfied with the services they receive given the price they pay for those services. They are especially critical of the rail transportation service interruptions and the hundreds of millions of dollars in costs to the Canadian economy year after year.
For Canadian industries, this may mean that harvests rot in the fields, that plants and mines are just marking time and they miss the ships meant to transport their products. It may also mean that inadequate rail freight services hurt Canadian exporters, jeopardize our competitive position internationally and cost jobs in Canada.
We cannot afford to suffer losses on the international marketplace just because the railways are unable to organize their services properly.
In addition, the clients of rail freight services, from farmers to mining companies, are penalized by the virtual monopoly in rail services. In most parts of the country, shippers cannot choose which rail carrier to use because they only have access to CN or CP. Such is the case in my riding. Even where both rail companies provide services, one of them usually sets its price too high, leaving the shipper with hardly any choice at all.
Shippers routinely defray the cost of service interruptions, delays and a range of performance shortcomings by CN and CP. Pickups and deliveries are made on time or not at all. The number of cars requested is often different from the number of cars provided, and the cars provided are sometimes damaged.
The situation affects many sectors, such as natural resources, manufacturing, agriculture, forestry products, mines, chemicals and the automotive sector.
For the most part, the products of these industries are intended for export. The poor quality of rail transport services undermines the ability of Canadian exporters to compete on the international marketplace.
As an example, soybeans from Argentina have a competitive advantage on, for instance, Japanese and Chinese markets because they are delivered more quickly and more punctually than soybeans from Canada, even though the distance covered by the Canadian products is substantially shorter. This clearly shows that there is a problem with our rail system.
Shippers have told the Conservative government about their dissatisfaction for years now, but the Conservatives have not taken any real measures. Since 2007, their approach has been to talk about it and wait. They started off by promising to ask a panel of experts to study the issue.
I know that the Conservative government likes to postpone the passage of good bills endlessly. However, at some point, you have to move from consultations to actually taking action.
What we want is clear. Farmers and other businesses have been footing the bill for years for the poor quality of rail freight services and have never really been able to get Ottawa’s attention. I am pleased that they have a listening ear in the member for Trinity—Spadina.
In order to truly remedy the situation, the NDP advocates strengthening the shippers’ position. We are on the side of businesses and exporters, and we are determined to get them the rail freight services they deserve.
Bill C-52 will cover only new service agreements, not existing ones, and that presents a problem. It means that many shippers will continue living with unreliable and unfair services with no access to the resolution process when existing service agreements are violated.
Arbitration is available only to shippers negotiating new agreements. Instead of offering all shippers speedy, reliable assistance through dispute resolution, Bill C-52 offers a limited arbitration process to a small group of shippers.
The arbitration process presented could be very expensive for shippers and place an unfair burden of proof on them by asking them to prove that they need the services of the rail transportation company.
One of the things we are calling for is the inclusion of penalties in service agreements, to compensate shippers for service interruptions, damage and lost productivity.
In its present version, the bill provides for maximum fines of $100,000 to be paid to the federal government, not the shipper. In order for fines to have a deterrent effect, they should be higher, given that CN made a profit of $2.7 billion in 2012.
The NDP will stand up for farming, mining and forestry communities, like the ones in my riding, and will fight to put an end to the unacceptable treatment and unreliable rail transportation services provided by the big rail companies.
We need a stronger bill to protect the customers. We will work with shippers to get them the fair and reliable rail transportation services they deserve.
The poor quality of rail transportation services causes Canadian shippers hundreds of millions of dollars in damage every year. Canadian jobs are at stake. We have to act now.