Rail Customer Protection Act

An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act (shippers' protection)

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.

This bill was previously introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session.

Sponsor

Olivia Chow  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Introduced, as of Oct. 16, 2013
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Canada Transportation Act to add a requirement that notice be provided to stakeholders who would be directly affected by any proposed local rail service changes and to provide access to a dispute resolution process for disputes related to such a change. It also adds a provision to require railway companies to negotiate level of service agreements with stakeholders regarding the provision of services under section 113 of the Act and to give the railway company or stakeholder access to the dispute resolution process if no agreement is reached within the specified time. In addition, the enactment requires railway companies to report to their stakeholders and to the public on matters related to the level of service.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Fair Rail Freight Service ActGovernment Orders

May 29th, 2013 / 10:20 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of Bill C-52, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act.

Before I get going, I cannot help but mention that here we are, trying to debate an important piece of legislation, and yet the government has moved time allocation once again. This is the 37th time. What does the government have against parliamentary democracy? Why is it so determined to shut down debate and to prevent members of Parliament from having their say on important pieces of legislation? My colleague said how important this legislation is, and because it is so important, I am very disappointed that the Conservatives had to use these tactics yet again.

When we look at this bill, it actually gives our rail freight customers, or shippers, the right to service agreements with rail companies, especially CN and CP. It also puts into place, as my colleague said, a Canadian Transportation Agency-led arbitration process for failed negotiations, and penalties for violating the arbitration results.

This all sounds good, but I want us to take a look at what this means. By the way, we are speaking in favour of this bill. However, we do not believe this bill is complete. It does not address all the issues that the shippers, farmers and everybody needed it to address, but it does go part of the way.

We call this bill a baby step in the right direction. As good behaviour should always be rewarded, it is a piece of legislation going in the right direction. We have heard that this will not alleviate all the challenges faced by the shippers but it will go a long way in addressing a few of them. It is one of those cases of “better something than nothing”. That is why we are supporting this bill.

At this time I want to acknowledge the work done by the member for Trinity—Spadina on this file. She is an amazing critic for the transportation file. She is dedicated, passionate and has worked incredibly hard with different organizations of shippers, and representatives from the mining companies, the pulse growers, the Canadian Wheat Board, the automotive industry, as well as the mineral and chemical companies.

It is her commitment, compassion and not letting go of this issue that I believe has forced the Conservative government to bring this bill to this House right now. Quite honestly, they have been dilly-dallying over this piece of legislation for a very long time, long after the report was out. They have had lots of time to act.

The member for Trinity—Spadina has a private member's bill, Bill C-441, rail customer protection act. It is her absolute advocacy and outreach, and that kind of work in the House, as well as the pressure from the shipping community, that has put pressure on the Conservatives to table legislation.

I think we should always give credit when members of Parliament put in an incredible amount of work to benefit our farmers, mining companies, automotive companies that have to move cars, and, of course, all the other resource industries as well, including forestry. We are absolutely delighted with the work that the member has done.

I also want to pick up on something that was said just a few minutes ago. CN made a profit of $2.7 billion in 2012, in one year, yet when I look at the penalty they will face, it is $100,000. By the way, that penalty is not paid to the shippers; it will be paid to the government.

I look at that and ask which lobby group has been successful. One just has to take a look at this bill. I have talked with shippers in my riding and visited a port where grains and legumes come in. This is when I learned something absolutely amazing, which you will be surprised at as well, Mr. Speaker. Did members know that Canada is the largest provider of pulses to India? In my naiveté, I always thought that lentils, chickpeas and all of those legumes were being brought to Canada from India and other countries. I was quite shocked to find out it was the opposite. It was the Canadian consul in Chandigarh who told me. He presented the figures and asked me if I knew that Canada is the largest exporter of legumes to India. A lot of those legumes go through the port of Vancouver and the port of Delta.

What I have heard from business people in my community, those who receive and ship, is the travesty that exists right now. They actually have to wait, sometimes for days and days, because the promised carriages do not arrive. If they are slow to unload a trolley—I think it is called a trolley—when it arrives, they end up having to pay fines, but there are no consequences for the railway companies if they are late, do not send enough trolleys or if the trolleys that arrive are damaged and, therefore, cannot be used.

I looked at the ledger with one of these business people in great detail, who wanted to show me the impact it was having on his business. Let us say that he does not get the shipment on time, that the shipment of pulses that arrives from the Prairies does not get to his place on time. In the meantime, he not only has trucks and truck drivers waiting but labourers waiting to unload, and he has time booked at the port. Guess what? He has to pay all of them, through no fault of his own, just because the railway company is delayed or because it does not deliver all the trolleys he was expecting on that date.

I thought it must just be a few dollars here and there. I was surprised at how much these shippers pay if they do not empty the trolleys on time. However, I was also shocked at the port fees they still had to pay if they did not take up their spots and how the costs escalated the longer they waited. Really, we are not talking about simple costing. This bill has compensation—no, not compensation, a slight penalty for the railway companies of $100,000 when they make $2.7 billion in profit. Guess who that money goes to? It does not go to offset the real costs incurred by the shippers and receivers, those who grow and ship the goods. That money goes to the government.

I have been shaking my head on that one, thinking this makes very little sense. Does the government really have a vested interest in making sure that this new piece of legislation really works, if it knows that every time CN Rail is late, it is going to get $100,000? That does not seem like a penalty. It seems like the government has built in a bonus for itself. We really have to take a look at that.

Our railway system is the backbone of our country. There is no doubt about it. From some of the early CP and CN stories we have all read about, glorious or not so glorious, we know that 70% of our surface goods are moved by rail. That is a significant amount. When we say that there are shippers who actually suffer the consequence of this, we are not talking about a small number of people.

This is another figure that absolutely astounded me. It is that 80% of service commitments for agricultural rail customers are not met by rail companies. I think 80% would get a big F if I were grading them for service. Let us say, out of 100 times, 80 times they fail to meet their deadlines. We are talking about produce that has to be moved quickly and people are waiting for it. We are also talking about some produce that could get spoiled, but we are also talking about the ricochet or cascading costs that I just mentioned earlier.

There are delays. There are insufficient numbers of rail cars. Some rail cars arrive and they are damaged. Sometimes they order 12 rail cars and guess how many arrive? For one person I was talking to, shippers might only get half the rail cars they ordered. That puts all kinds of stress on the system. Once again, when we look at the losses incurred by the shippers, the bill fails to address that. I would urge my colleagues, even at this late stage because it is in their hands, to really take a look at that.

The rail freight service review said that 80% of shippers are not satisfied. By the way, we are not talking about one industry. Of course agriculture plays a huge role in this area, but we are also talking about forestry, natural resources, manufactured goods, mining, chemicals and as I said earlier, all the agricultural belt. Key stakeholders in agriculture, mining and forestry industries, not just individual people but associations representing these industries, have been calling for freight legislation for years.

Let me give some examples: Pulse Canada, Grain Growers of Canada, Forestry Products Association of Canada and the Mining Association of Canada. Once again I would say that as I have talked with many business people in my community who are involved in the shipping industry they have been so full of praise for the member for Trinity—Spadina who has done such great work on this file.

Canada's shippers deserve fair and reliable rail freight service for the good money they are paying. Right now with the way our country is, CN and CP seem to hold a dual monopoly. The impact of that monopoly has not been addressed by Bill C-52 because the one area that has not been addressed is pricing. That is a critical part as well, and it is not only pricing, but also the fact that there is no compensation for the shippers.

There were six recommendations from the shipping community at the committee stage, sensible, practical and modest. They were all rejected. This is an all too familiar pattern. I sit at the immigration committee as vice-chair, and it does not seem to matter what amendments we propose. Even amendments that the minister thinks would be really good ones because we take up his wording just get rejected.

However, these were not amendments from the opposition. These were amendments suggested by the shipping community, the business community, the people who are the backbone of this country who pay taxes and who were looking to the government to show them a level playing field. Once again, the government has failed to show a level playing field to all the industries I mentioned, including agriculture. Once again, it has chosen to stand closer to the big corporate friends like the railway lines, CP and CN.

Members know that the NDP is not going to give up. We are not planning to go away. We are planning to work harder than ever. We will continue to work with the shipping community to tackle the issue of gouging through uncompetitive rail freight rates.

Do members know what? This was an opportunity for the government to address that issue, to take a holistic approach, instead of taking a baby step, a very tiny baby step. In here, we can talk about the economy. We can talk about growing jobs. We can talk about all kinds of issues. However, here was a concrete opportunity for the current government to do something that would help to bolster our economy, agriculture, the mining industry, the forestry industry and the automotive industry. Once again, it was very short-sighted and just decided to take a baby step.

One of the key things we have to take a look at is that when we look at the moving of goods and think that 70% of our surface goods are moved by rail, in this huge country—and by the way, as we know, moving goods by rail is much more environmentally sound than it is to move them by road—the government had an opportunity, at this time, to support the pulse growers, the grain growers, the mining industry and the forestry industry.

We know that disruptions to rail freight services and unacceptable service costs cost the Canadian economy hundreds of millions of dollars every year. The businessmen I have talked to when I have taken a look at the losses they incur, when they incur those losses, they impact the community I live in. They impact right across this country. A few of the business people have been telling me that they absolutely—

Speaker's RulingFair Rail Freight Service ActGovernment Orders

May 23rd, 2013 / 1:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

Dan Harris NDP Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise again to speak to Bill C-52. When many people were going to bed last night, we thought we would be debating a different bill this morning. However, from time to time the government does like to make late-night changes to throw the opposition off and to play games.

I now find myself in a position of supporting a bill that is only a half measure. Once again, a bill has come back to the House from committee wherein the Conservative majority has shown complete disdain for the testimony and recommendations made by key stakeholders. Once again, the Conservatives had a chance to significantly improve a bill at committee, but as in all other committees, it used its majority to shut down sensible and considered amendments, which could have easily improved this essentially flawed legislation.

Canadians are watching and seeing quite clearly how the government lacks any of the accountability it once supposedly so lovingly cherished and promised to Canadians. The recent growing scandal in the Senate only acts to highlight the arrogant sense of Conservative entitlement that the members on this side of the House see every day during our work in committees. This arrogance will come back to bite the government in the rear. Sadly, it also means that Canadians end up paying the price for the government's bad decisions.

The Conservatives had a chance to get Bill C-52 right but instead chose to do only half a job. They could have chosen to help strengthen a very significant part of our economy. Instead, they once again caved in to powerful lobbyists and decided to protect their big rail buddies, leaving Canadian shippers holding the bag and the costs.

Poor rail freight service is hurting Canada's exporters, damaging our productivity and global competitiveness and costing us jobs. We cannot afford to lose international business because big rail cannot get its act together.

Disruptions to rail freight services, as well as poor, unacceptable services, are costing the Canadian economy hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Idle manufacturing plants and mines, rotting crops and missed deliveries to outgoing ships due to inefficient and dreadful rail services are a daily reality for Canadian industry.

It is important to note that rail transport is the backbone of the Canadian economy. More than 70% of all surface goods in Canada are shipped by rail. However, 80% of service commitments for agricultural rail customers are not being met by the rail companies due to such issues as delays and an insufficient number of railcars. The recent rail freight service review, which has been mentioned time and time again today, found that 80% of shippers are not satisfied with the services they receive. That means there is only a 20% satisfaction rate, which is abysmal. In any other industry, without this existing duopoly with CN and CP, businesses would be run into the ground for having such poor service records. Rail freight customers, from farmers to mining companies, are suffering from this virtual monopoly. In most parts of the country, shippers cannot choose between rail service providers because they only have access to either CN or CP, and that is if they still have rail service.

Rail line abandonment has been brought up more than once today. A couple of weeks ago I was driving through Arnprior, which is not far from here, expecting to cross the railway line, but it had been torn up. In the prairie provinces, the short lines that give access to the agricultural industry and farmers to reach the main line terminals and distribution centres are being ripped up. In the last 15 years, we have lost more than 10,000 kilometres of rail in Canada, which has been torn up because CN and CP have chosen to change the distribution methods. There is really no cost to them; they will not suffer, because there is no other game in town.

We have seen some real entrepreneurship in the prairie provinces where farmers, local municipalities and communities have banded together to bring rail service back into their communities. They are forming co-ops to save their short lines and bring their products to market in a more effective way, no thanks to the current government or the one before it.

Shippers are routinely suffering from service disruptions, delays and various forms of non-performance by CN and CP. Deliveries and pickups are done on time or are skipped altogether. Frequently, even the number of ordered railcars is not matched by delivered railcars, and sometimes cars are damaged. A broad range of industries is affected by the situation, from natural resources to manufacturing, including agriculture, forest products, mining, chemical, and the automotive businesses. A large portion of the goods in these industries is destined for export. Lacklustre rail service is thus hurting Canada's exporters' ability to compete in global marketplaces. For example, soybeans from Argentina enjoy a competitive advantage in markets like Japan and China because they are delivered faster and more punctually than soybeans from Canada, despite the fact that the total distance covered is significantly shorter for products coming from Canada.

For years now, shippers have been voicing their discontent, but no concrete action was taken by the Conservatives. Bill C-52 would be a half-hearted attempt to level the playing field for industries that are dependent on reliable, speedy rail freight services. Hundreds of millions of dollars in economic losses, decreased competitiveness in the global marketplace and lost jobs apparently do not interest the Conservatives.

Shippers are so desperate that any form of protection is welcome, which is why so many industry groups are supporting the spirit of this bill. However, the watered-down Conservative bill comes as a disappointment for many across those industries. Since 2007, a talk-it-out-and-wait tactic has been employed, starting with the promise of an expert panel review. The rail freight service review started in 2008. The independent panel tabled its final report in early 2011. Half a year later, the Conservatives initiated a mediation process that did not yield any results; it was more wasted time from the other side. Presumably, with the backing of the Conservative government, CN and CP management were unwilling to make any meaningful concessions. The mediation process, led by retired Conservative politician and university chancellor Jim Dinning, failed and his report was released in June 2012.

Parallel to the end of the mediation process, my colleague from Trinity—Spadina tabled a private member's bill, Bill C-441, the rail customer protection act. The private member's bill, coupled with advocacy work from the shipping community, put pressure on the government to follow up on the promise to actually table legislation.

It is also interesting to note that CN undertook a massive lobbying effort last year, first to prevent the bill and then to water it down. Dozens of documented visits to government offices and a media campaign showed its determination to keep the status quo. I would remind the House again that the status quo means that 80% of shippers are unsatisfied with the service that CN and CP are delivering.

Bill C-52 would focus squarely on commercial agreements between rail companies and shippers from a procedural point of view, having the rights to a service level agreement arbitration process in the case of failed negotiations, but not at any other time. Also, it would not address the other elephant in the room: pricing and cost. Certainly it would give an arbitration process, but any penalties garnered from that would not go back to the shippers to compensate them for their losses and their costs; they would go to the government.

The member for Elmwood—Transcona earlier today spoke about how they would have recourse to the courts. Yes, of course they would, but that would bring many costs and time and effort there, with no guarantees, of course. We should be designing bills that would not seek to actually draw people into the legal system. We should be avoiding having people unnecessarily go to court. As for the $100,000 limit on the fines, CN made $3 billion in profits last year, so a $100,000 fine could just be classified as the cost of doing business.

The consensus of the shipping community was to deal with pricing later and tackle service level agreement issues first. While Bill C-52 would fall short on a number of stakeholder demands, it is prudent to support the bill as the shipping community believes it would be a good first step. The task now is to address shortcomings and strengthen the bill to the benefit of the shippers and also to ensure that they get what they need in future rounds of negotiations.

The NDP proposed nine amendments at committee that were summarily rejected by the Conservatives. As my colleague, the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine mentioned, there was only one Conservative question during all of those amendments, so they really were not interested in hearing about the suggestions we were making.

All those industry groups that the Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of Heritage mentioned over and over again also submitted several recommendations to the committee, which the government also ignored. I would like to hear him answer why the government ignored those questions the next time he gets up to try to grill us on nationalization.

I am looking at the time, Mr. Speaker. I would definitely like to have some questions from my hon. colleagues before we hit question period, so I will wrap up now.

Speaker's RulingFair Rail Freight Service ActGovernment Orders

May 23rd, 2013 / 12:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to be able to rise and add to this debate on the third reading of Bill C-52.

Today is an important day in history, as it turns out, because this date in 1887 was the first day a train actually arrived in Vancouver. That train had a picture of Queen Victoria on the front of it, which I am sure the members opposite will be very glad of.

Our rail system has some problems, and those problems have been caused by years of neglect by governments with respect to the monopolistic position the rail companies are in vis-à-vis the rail shippers, the people who actually use the rail system. I will not go into the problems we have with the rail passenger system, which has suffered untold neglect by both the Liberals and the Conservatives.

In 1995, the Liberal government decided to sell CN, which was at the time one of Canada's biggest rail shipping companies. I am not going to answer a question from the members to my left about whether we are going to re-nationalize CN. That is not the point. The point is that when a public entity is given to the private sector, one must look at the consequences of that decision. If one of the consequences is to have created a virtual monopoly, then one needs to have put in regulatory controls to balance the playing field. That the Liberals did not do. I have heard from the member for Winnipeg North that the member for Wascana is a champion for the shippers, but from 1995 to 2006, his government was in power, and the Liberals did nothing to protect the rail shippers from their decision to privatize one of Canada's two large rail-freight operations. The shippers finally complained loudly and long enough that this Conservative government said that it would do something about it. That was in 2007.

Here we are in 2013, and I hear the parliamentary secretary and others saying to hurry up and pass this bill. We have been talking about this for seven years. Let us hurry up and have a bill to talk about. Finally we do, and it is flawed. That is one of the reasons I am here to talk about this bill today. It is not that we are not supporting it. We do sometimes have to hold our noses and support flawed legislation, because it is at least one step forward. However, we could have gone six or seven steps forward, and the Conservative government chose not to.

In 2008, as a result of a lot of pressure from the shippers, who said that they were being held hostage by the rail companies, there was a rail service review. That service review came up with a report in early 2011, before the current government was elected. In its platform, the Conservatives pledged to do something about it, but interestingly, even though the rail service review was in, it was not in the Speech from the Throne. There was no indication that this bill would be part of the legislative agenda of the current government. In fact, the Conservatives did not actually propose legislation. When the rail service review report was put in place, the Conservatives then tried mediation. They tried to talk it out between the parties and see if they could work it out. The problem is that talking does not work if one of the parties is so enormous that it absolutely controls the other.

Then the member for Trinity—Spadina put forward a private member's bill, Bill C-441, that would deal with all the steps of the problem. It would deal with the service level agreements, the price and a whole bunch of the issues the rail shippers had determined were their problems in dealing with this David and Goliath situation. All of a sudden, the Conservatives said, “Whoops, we forgot. We had better put a bill forward”, and Bill C-52 magically appeared.

The trouble is that Bill C-52 does not actually deal with some of the shippers' problems. It deals with one in particular, and really, that is all that has happened in this bill. It would deal with one of the shippers' problems, which is that they do not have the right to a service level agreement in their negotiations with the rail companies.That means that they do not have the right to negotiate, to firmly fix in their contracts with the rail companies, that, yes, a train will arrive on Saturday when their grain is ready to be shipped; yes, there will be 12 boxcars; yes, those boxcars will make it to Vancouver by two weeks from Saturday. Those are the kinds of things the shippers said they just cannot get.

Finally, we have a piece of legislation that would actually deal with that, in a roundabout way, by saying that if the shippers cannot work it out with the rail companies, then they would have the right to an arbitrated process. Therefore, the shippers would now have a right to an arbitrated process that would give them that service level review.

I am being reminded, Mr. Speaker, that I will be splitting my time with the member for Brossard—La Prairie.

Therefore, one piece of the puzzle would be solved. As a result, this party will be supporting the bill at third reading but wishes that it had gone further.

The shippers would now have the right, as a result of the bill, to an arbitrated service level agreement. However, that arbitration would come at a cost. The shippers themselves would have to pay for half the cost of that arbitration process.

The railroads have deep pockets. Paying for an arbitration process, for them, would be like a small flea on the back of an elephant. It would mean nothing to them. However, to the shippers, it may mean something. There would be no assistance from the government in the cost of this arbitration process. That is one problem.

The railways have a monopoly on price, as well, and price is not part of what could be arbitrated. The price is something that would be subject to negotiations only between the shippers themselves and the railroad. The railroads would not have to do anything about the price in this arbitration process. All they would have the right to talk about and all that could be arbitrated would be the service level agreements.

Railways have a habit of charging extra fees. Airlines have extra fees now. Passengers are charged for bags. Apparently some airlines charge passengers to use the overhead bins. There is one airline in Europe that is going to charge passengers to use the bathroom.

The railways do the same thing.The railways have the ability, as a part of the service level agreement, to set up fees, which the shippers will pay if their product is not ready on the day they suggest or if there is any other problem the railways might consider the fault of the shippers. The shippers do not have any reciprocal rights.

That is something else that is missing from the bill. The shippers cannot charge the railways a fee if they are late. In fact, the government has said that if the railways break these agreements, the shippers' only recourse is to go to the courts for recompense from the railway companies.

Again, we are dealing with a David and Goliath in the courts. We now have the situation where small wheat farmers in central Alberta, who are barely making ends meet with their wheat farms because of the demise of the Wheat Board, are actually going to have to sue the rail companies, at their own expense, because the rail companies failed to meet their arbitrated service level agreements. That is yet another penalty for these poor shippers.

The shippers have told the government, and we in the NDP agree, that a mechanism by which the shippers could arbitrate a penalty regimen back to the shippers would be appreciated so that if the railways break the service level agreement, the shippers would know what they were going to get and would not have to go to court. That is done all the time in labour arbitrations and labour negotiations.

The government claims that it is not going to do it here. It is saying that the shippers should speak to the courts.

In closing, I would like to say that we in the NDP will, in fact, be supporting the bill. However, there is a lot more the bill could have done, but every single one of the amendments we proposed was rejected by the government at committee without, really, a whole lot of thought.

Speaker's RulingFair Rail Freight Service ActGovernment Orders

May 23rd, 2013 / 12:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Yes, two steps, and we might even be on our way toward a solution. It is in that frame of mind that we will be voting in favour of Bill C-52, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act (administration, air and railway transportation and arbitration). It is more a matter of railway transportation in this case. Arbitration is probably the most interesting thing about this amendment to the legislation. I will come back to that a little later.

For those who may not have heard much about this bill, let me briefly talk about what the problem is. In Canada—a vast country if ever there was one—it is advantageous to transport bulk commodities over long distances by train. It makes sense. It was meant to be. It is impossible for some shippers to even think about a mode of transportation other than rail transport.

If we had to use trucks to transport the goods shipped by a single train with several cars, first of all, it would be difficult to even get a fleet of trucks that could transport these goods. Second, this would clearly have a major impact on the environment, and third, the trucking company would become completely unproductive from an economic perspective. Rail transportation is therefore the most popular and preferred method of transportation for economic and environmental reasons.

However, as we all know, freight rail services in Canada are managed by the virtual monopoly of two companies: CN and CP. However, as I will explain later, although there appears to be competition between the two companies, that competition tends to disappear in many situations. It is difficult for shippers to negotiate contracts that meet their expectations and benefit from competition in a monopoly situation.

It is easy to say that at least Canada has two railway companies, CN and CP; however, the healthy competition that should lower prices is strangely absent. Instead, the territory, and therefore the market, is shared between these two companies. We have two companies holding a virtual monopoly rather than real competition.

In regions that have access to both CN and CP, unfortunately, one of the companies often demands prices that are too high, which once again leaves shippers with only one choice.

For several years, shippers have faced problems not only with fees, but also with delays, service interruptions and lack of available cars. There are also problems with outdated and broken cars that let part of the harvest spill out onto the tracks.

I put myself in the shoes of someone who produces grains, chemicals, natural resources or whatever watching money spill out onto the tracks as the train heads towards the port. Every time that happens, the individual's profit margin and overall profitability take a hit.

This immediately results in higher costs for shippers and a drop in profitability. Furthermore, in an economy in which the just-in-time strategy is very often the norm and is an obvious competitive advantage, shippers are caught in a David and Goliath struggle that is difficult to resolve without the government's help.

I will leave it up to my colleagues to figure out who is David and who is Goliath. I think it will be easy enough, except that in Canada, David never manages to prevail over Goliath.

Quality rail service is critical for shippers. These products are being exported, and I think it goes without saying that our exports suffer greatly in the fiercely competitive international markets as a result of numerous flaws in Canada's rail transportation system.

Businesses pay the price every time, because they lose a contract, or they have less room to manoeuvre or they make less profit. David was at least able to make the government aware of the problems he had with Goliath, but it took a lot of effort. I would say this is a marathon rather than a sprint. Efforts to raise awareness began in 2007, but it took until 2013, today, for the government to bring in a meagre bill.

I should also mention the work done previously by my colleague from Trinity—Spadina, who introduced Bill C-441, which members will certainly remember and which had loftier ambitions for dealing with this matter.

Nevertheless, there is a glimmer of hope. In 2015, we will replace this government that is plagued by scandals and poor management, and we will be able to do more about this.

I have to admit that I support this bill because of the shippers, as I mentioned earlier. This puts me in mind, appropriately enough, of the little engine that could, except that in this case, we are talking about a big engine that moves slowly indeed. It really needs a nudge.

What is in Bill C-52, an outstanding bill in the eyes of the Conservatives?

Obviously, the main point is that shippers will be able to use an arbitration process to settle their disputes with a railway company that, as we know, has a virtual monopoly.

To be eligible for arbitration, the shipper must demonstrate that attempts have been made to arrive at an agreement with the railway company, which is not easy to begin with. In its decision, the arbitrator establishes the level of services the railway company must provide and its obligations to the shipper. That would be part of the contract, I suppose. Contracts are confidential, which is why I said “I suppose” in the previous sentence.

In addition, Bill C-52 will only apply to new contracts between shippers and railway companies.

Furthermore, the maximum penalty is $100,000. I guess $100,000 for a company that made a profit of $2.7 million is not very scary. What is worse is that, if imposed, the fine will not go to the shipper to make up for the inconvenience, but into government coffers. Is this a new tax or a new fee? I have no idea. I will let the public decide whether this is appropriate or not.

Since I am quickly running out of time, I will move on to the conclusion right away.

I will support this bill, although it is a reflection of a tired government that is more concerned about image than substance. These days, even its image is taking a hit.

All shippers who work daily to provide Canadians and international clients with the best of their acquired expertise can count on the NDP, not only to allow this legislation to move forward in its early stages, but also to follow up and assess the effectiveness of the measures put in place by Bill C-52.

The solution is simple: in 2015, elect an NDP government that will once again make it possible for all Canadians to proudly believe that we can build a more just society where everyone's efforts will bear fruit.

Fair Rail Freight Service ActGovernment Orders

February 4th, 2013 / 6:20 p.m.
See context

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, rail freight customers, from farmers to mining companies, are suffering because railway companies have a virtual monopoly when it comes to the vital rail lines that Canadians need to get goods to market.

In most parts of the country shippers cannot choose between rail services because they only have access to either CN or CP. Even in the few places where both rail companies provide access, one is usually priced out of the market, leaving the shipper with no real choice.

Shippers routinely suffer from service disruptions, delays and experience all kinds of examples of non-reliable performance by CN and CP. Deliveries and pickups are not done on time or are skipped completely. Frequently the number of ordered railcars is not matched by the delivered number of railcars and sometimes cars are badly damaged.

When a shipper contracts a specific number of railcars, that shipper needs to know those cars will be available. Anything other than this kind of reliability is bad business and bad management. Unfortunately, we know that 80% of the service commitments for agricultural rail customers are not met by rail companies.

After years of talking, the Conservatives have finally tabled legislation to address a number of key rail freight customer grievances after years of inferior service by the big rail companies. Bill C-52 is a step forward, but is far from a perfect solution.

Key demands from the shipping community have, quite simply, not been addressed. Bill C-52 would also create loopholes because of its ambiguous language. The Conservative language is weak. Its protective measures do not cover existing contracts between shippers and rail companies and offers only a narrow, costly arbitration process for failed negotiations for new contracts. Key demands like the shippers' call to include penalties for rail companies in service agreements, performance standards and an easily accessible conflict resolution process were ignored.

While NDP members will support this legislation, we will also push for amendments at the committee stage to protect shippers from the abuse of market power through the right to comprehensive service agreements and conflict resolution processes.

Rail transport is the backbone of Canada's economy, with 70% of all surface goods shipped by rail. It is crucial to make rail freight services work for both rail companies and shippers. We cannot take the importance of the railroad for granted.

It is also critical to note that current pricing for rail freight services is also damaging Canada's shippers. Bill C-52 explicitly excludes pricing, despite the calls from all parts of the shipping community to address the pricing regime. This has a significant impact on Canada's trade deficit, which is, by the way, ballooning. It reached almost $2 billion in November alone. We cannot afford to lose even more ground when it comes to global competitiveness for Canada's products.

A broad range of industries are affected by the situation created by the virtual monopoly of current rail service providers. I have already mentioned agriculture, but we must not forget other key industries like forestry and mining as well as chemical and automotive businesses. Many of the goods produced by these industries are destined for export.

Lacklustre rail services are hurting Canada's exporters' ability to compete in global markets. For example, soybeans from Argentina enjoy a competitive advantage in markets like Japan and China because they are delivered faster and more punctually than soybeans from Canada, despite the fact that the total distance that needs to be covered is significantly shorter for products from Canada.

Rail freight is not only central to Canada's economy; we also need strong rail freight services to take trucks off the road and tackle greenhouse gas emissions. While the overall share of surface transport for goods remains high for rail, frustrated companies switch to trucking where possible and the environment loses.

Rail freight is only one aspect where the Conservatives are slow to act. From new rail safety measures to cuts at VIA Rail and blocking the introduction of high-speed rail in Canada, Conservatives do not give Canada's rail network the attention it deserves.

The bill has taken a long time to come to the House. For years, shippers have been unhappy but no concrete action was taken by the Conservatives. Since 2007 they employed a talk it out and wait tactic, starting with the promise of an expert panel review.

The rail freight service review started in 2008. The independent panel tabled its final report in early 2011. Half a year later in the fall of 2011, the Conservatives initiated a mediation process that did not yield any results. Presumably with the tacit backing from the Conservative government, CN and CP were unwilling to make any meaningful concessions. The mediation process, led by retired Conservative politician and University of Calgary chancellor Jim Dinning, failed. Dinning released his report in June 2012 and the Minister of Transport promised government legislation on the topic to be tabled in the fall.

Parallel to the end of the mediation process, fortunately, the member for Trinity—Spadina tabled private member's Bill C-441, the rail customer protection act, in June 2012. The private member's bill by the member for Trinity—Spadina, coupled with advocacy work from the shipping community, put pressure on the minister to follow up on his promise to actually table legislation. However, CN undertook a massive lobbying effort last year, first to prevent any effective bill, then to have it watered down. Dozens of documented visits to government offices and a media campaign show the determination of CN to keep the status quo.

Rail customers have banded together now and are organized in the Coalition of Rail Shippers. The coalition is a loose and informal entity, but it wants something positive for its industry. It wants something positive for the people who produce the goods, who create the wealth in this country, the men and women who do the work to make this country tick and be productive.

Shippers are having a hard time getting fair and reliable freight service, and that is simply unacceptable. We can and should do better for those that rely on our rail system. Our manufacturers, farmers and resource industries depend on our rail system. If rail were made more fair and affordable, consumers would also see an advantage.

This is a country that emerged as a strong, independent nation because of the accessibility of our railways. Let us not abandon those who would continue to build our Canada.

Fair Rail Freight Service ActGovernment Orders

February 4th, 2013 / 5:35 p.m.
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NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today not only as the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam and Port Moody but in my capacity as western economic diversification critic for the NDP.

Like my NDP colleagues, I will also be supporting Bill C-52, an act to amend the Canada Transportation Act, to send the bill to committee for further discussion. We do, however, have serious concerns with the bill as my hon. colleagues before me have pointed out, including the member for Trinity—Spadina, who is the NDP transportation critic. She outlined some of those concerns in her speech earlier.

Rail transport is the backbone of the Canadian economy. More than 70% of all surface goods in Canada are shipped by rail, so we can see how critically important it is to get this right. Eighty per cent of service commitments for agricultural rail customers are not met by rail companies because of issues such as delays, insufficient number of rail cars, inefficiencies and unreliable service. The rail freight service review found that 80% of shippers are not satisfied with the services they receive. Eighty per cent is a significant amount. Over three-quarters of all customers have a concern.

I just want to talk about the importance of rail to my riding of New Westminster—Coquitlam. Specifically I am talking about Port Moody where we are celebrating 100 years of history. Just this weekend I was at a book launch hosted by the Port Moody Heritage Society for Tracks in Time. Obviously the title is in reference to trains and the influence that trains have had on the development of our community and on the west coast, and in fact, of all Canada. The rail system is of critical importance to our community. We celebrate the Golden Spike festival in Port Moody every Canada Day. This just points to how important trains are to our community.

Talking about the importance of trains not only to the community but to the rest of my riding, it is important to focus on the efficiency and the service that trains provide to Coquitlam, Port Moody and of course New Westminster. It is important for the economy not only in my riding but in western Canada and indeed all of the country. It is critical that we look at ways to improve train service in this country.

I want to provide a bit of background. I know other colleagues have commented specifically about what the bill would do and would not do and some of its shortcomings.

Rail freight customers from farmers to mining companies are suffering from the virtual monopoly of power of the railway companies. In most parts of the country shippers cannot choose between rail service providers because they only have access to either CN or CP. Even in a few places where both rail companies provide access, one is virtually priced out of the market, leaving the shipper with no real choice. Shippers routinely suffer from service disruptions, delays and various forms of non-performance by CP and CN. Deliveries and pickups are not done on time or skipped completely. Frequently the number of ordered rail cars is not matched by the delivered rail cars and sometimes cars are damaged.

A broad range of industries are affected by the situation, especially agriculture, forestry and mining. In western Canada these industries play a significant part in the economy. Chemical and automotive businesses in the rest of Canada are also affected.

A large portion of these goods are destined for export. Lacklustre rail services are thus hurting Canadian exporters' abilities to compete in global markets. For example, soybeans from Argentina enjoy a competitive advantage in markets such as Japan and China because they are delivered faster and more punctual than soybeans from Canada, despite the fact that the total distance covered is significantly shorter for products from Canada. For years shippers have been unhappy but no concrete action was taken by the Conservatives. Since 2007 a “talk it out and wait” tactic was employed, starting with the promise of an expert review panel.

The rail freight service review started in 2008. The independent panel tabled its final report in early 2011. Half a year later, in the fall of 2011, the Conservatives initiated a mediation process that did not yield any results. Presumably, with the tacit backing from the Conservative government, CN and CP were unwilling to make any meaningful concessions. The mediation process, led by retired Conservative politician, University of Calgary Chancellor Jim Dinning, failed. Dinning released a report in June 2012.

The Minister of Transport promised government legislation on the topic to be tabled in the fall. Parallel to the end of the mediation process, the member for Trinity—Spadina tabled a private member's bill, Bill C-441, the rail customer protection act, in June 2012. The private member's bill, coupled with advocacy work from the shipping community, put pressure on the minister to follow up on his promise and actually table legislation.

The shipping community is organized in a coalition of rail shippers. The coalition is a loose and rather informal entity. Organizationally this group is attached to the Canadian Industrial Transport Association. The coalition consists of 17 members that represent mining, forestry, agriculture, chemical and manufacturing industries. One of the original 18 members repeatedly has been brought up in the U.S. Senate, both on the floor and in committee without decisive legislation as of yet.

The surface transportation board, a federal body, is working on regulations to address pricing and service issues, while judges have repeatedly supported shippers in court cases. I just wanted to point that out.

What is the NDP are looking for? What can be specific about?

We know farmers and the mining and forestry companies have been hurting for years due to unreliable freight services, without getting any help from Ottawa. To truly address the issue and also to give the NDP leverage in rural areas, the member for Trinity—Spadina has become an advocate for strengthening the shippers' position. She has been very active on this file.

The NDP position is quite simple. We are standing with business and exporters and we are committed to getting them the fair and reliable freight services they deserve. That will have an impact on not only western Canada but on the entire Canadian economy.

The member for Trinity—Spadina has worked on this issue, including forging ties with key industry associations and tabling an NDP bill. One of the goals is to continue to grow those ties with the NDP as the party that stands up for legitimate business interests and pushes back against market power abuses.

While Bill C-52 falls short on a number of stakeholder demands, it is prudent to support the bill as the shipping community is largely content with the legislation. They are also quite desperate to see some legislation address their issues.

The task is now to address the shortcomings and strengthen the bill to the benefit of the shippers and also to promote our involvement with the entire process. That is what we are doing here. We are trying to highlight some of those key issues that need to be worked on at the committee stage.

Bill C-52 will only cover new service agreements, not existing ones. Many shippers will be stuck with unreliable and unfair services, without any conflict resolution process in the case of violations to existing service agreements. Arbitration is only available for shippers that are negotiating new contracts.

Instead of offering quick and reliable help through conflict resolution to shippers, Bill C-52 would give arbitration a narrow scope for a small group of shippers and the outlined arbitration process could end up being too costly for companies like the Canadian Propane Association and others.

I want to finish by letting the House know there are others that support the position we are bringing forward. They are key stakeholders, like agriculture, mining and forestry industry associations, that have been calling for freight legislation for years, for example, Pulse Canada, Grain Growers of Canada, the Forest Product Association of Canada and the Mining Association of Canada.

In conclusion, I want to say that we are in support of it at second reading. The NDP will push for amendments at committee stage to protect shippers from the abuse of market powers through the right to comprehensive service agreements and conflict resolution processes.

Fair Rail Freight Service ActGovernment Orders

February 4th, 2013 / noon
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NDP

Matthew Kellway NDP Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to stand in the House today to speak to Bill C-52 and to kick off today's debate on an act to amend the Canada Transportation Act.

Here is a word about the rail industry in Canada to set some context for this discussion of Bill C-52. First, rail transport is critical to Canada's economy, and 70% of all surface goods in Canada are shipped by rail.

The rail industry has to work for Canada. Under the current government, our trade deficit is ballooning, reaching nearly $2 billion in November alone. There can be no tolerance, because there is no room in our economy for the kinds of inefficiencies, excess costs and performance woes that characterize our rail system presently.

The problem is that rail freight customers are struggling to get fair and reliable services from the virtual monopoly of CP and CN that control Canada's rail system. Many rail freight customers cannot even get a contract for service from one of these companies. Those who do get them have to contract for unreliable services that are costing the Canadian economy hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

Rotting crops, idled plants and mines, missed connections to other forms of transportation, all of this is hurting Canada's exporters, damaging our global competitiveness and costing us jobs.

These issues affect a broad range of economic activity, from agriculture, forestry, mining and the chemical industry to the automotive industry.

This set of circumstances is not new. It has defined the industry for a number of years, frustrating rail freight customers so that 80% of them are now unhappy with their rail service. They have been demanding change: action from the federal government, legislation that would compel CN and CP to provide service agreements to shippers.

Change has been slow in coming, however. The rail freight service review began in 2008. We had the panel, its report, a mediation exercise, another report and then the promise of legislation from the minister.

However, it seems that it was the private member's bill, Bill C-441, of my colleague, the NDP member for Trinity—Spadina, that pushed the government at last to release the government bill we have before us.

This is a tepid response to a real economic problem. It does not cover existing contracts. It offers only a narrow, costly arbitration process for failed negotiations for new contracts. Freight customers' demands to include penalties in service agreements, performance standards and accessible conflict resolution were ignored.

It is a start, but much more needs to be done and we will support the bill through to committee for amendments to redress the weaknesses and omissions in the bill.

Before it gets to committee, I think it is useful to think through more carefully and thoroughly what opportunities are lost to our economy, to us, with our rail system structured and regulated as it is presently.

The current issues confronting freight customers stem from the fact that the rail industry in this country is a virtual monopoly. It was made that way in 1995 with the sale of Canadian National Railway, along with the tracks, to private interests.

What was made with the sale was a virtual monopoly of a $10 billion industry that sits at the heart of the Canadian economy. Quoting from a Transport Canada document on rail transport:

Of total Canadian rail transport industry revenues, CN accounts for over 50% and CPR for approximately 35%. Together, CN and CPR represent more than 95% of Canada's annual rail tonne-kilometres, more than 75% of the industry's tracks, and three-quarters of overall tonnage carried by the rail sector.

It is important for both our economy and our environment that our rail system run with full efficiency. The alternative to rail freight is on-road transportation by way of trucks.

According to the latest Environment Canada national inventory report, 1990-2010, most transportation emissions in Canada are related to road transport. Emissions from road transport rose by 37 megatonnes, or 38%, between 1990 and 2010. Of those 37 megatonnes, emissions from heavy duty diesel vehicles or large freight trucks rose by 20 megatonnes. That is a 101% increase.

It is worth noting here that the GHG emission intensity of freight rail improved by 24% between 1990 and 2008. It should also be noted that there remains plenty of room for improving the emission intensity for both freight and passenger rail travel.

We know that not all truck freight is replaceable by rail freight and vice versa, but this is a worrying trend. It is worrying not just from an environmental perspective, but it also speaks to the broader issue of congestion on our roads and the environmental and economic costs of that congestion. Clearly, the more freight we can move by rail, the fewer trucks are unnecessarily using our road network for freight transport.

The same obviously holds true for passenger travel. It is notable that while passenger kilometres—that is, passenger travel by motor vehicle in Canada—have been on a long upward trend, passenger kilometres by train have remained virtually steady since plummeting in 1990. Of course, it was in 1990 that VIA Rail lost over 45% of its ridership in the aftermath of the federal government ordering VIA to abandon certain corridors and branch lines. As a result, passenger travel on VIA fell from its peak of about eight million passengers per year in the 1980s to a ridership that has bounced around the four million mark since.

Efforts to increase rail service for passengers have been stifled by the virtual monopoly of CN and CP. VIA operates its trains on 12,500 kilometres of track, but it owns a mere 2% of that. Eighty-three per cent is owned by CN and CP, with CN owning the majority of that track. The remaining track VIA uses is short line infrastructure, which is owned and maintained to reflect the freight market that these tracks serve. Therefore, with virtually no ownership of track and no priority access to track, VIA Rail must negotiate train service agreements with these major freight carriers in order to provide its passenger service, and it finds itself in the unenviable position of sitting between a virtual monopoly and the succession of Liberal and Conservative governments that failed to recognize the enduring value and incredible economic and environmental potential of rail travel to the country.

This indifference of our government to the economic and environmental potential of rail extends well beyond freight-related issues and intercity passenger travel, right into our cities. This is certainly the case in my city of Toronto. Investment in transit infrastructure, particularly in the form of rail transit, is critical to unleashing the economic potential of Toronto's city region. Infrastructure, and transit infrastructure in particular, is a key component of a competitive business environment.

This is most certainly the view of members of the Toronto Board of Trade. They identified transit infrastructure as their top priority. The Board of Trade's 2011 annual global benchmarking study shows why it requires urgent attention and investment. Toronto finished 19th out of 24 global cities on transportation issues, including last place in commute time and, significantly, 16th for kilometres travelled by rail. There is near consensus that the absence of adequate transit infrastructure in Toronto and the Toronto city region is the biggest impediment to Toronto's global competitiveness. It has been estimated that the annual cost of congestion to Toronto's regional economy is $6 billion. That cost is projected to rise to $15 billion if no significant action is taken.

It is time to take significant action. The cost of the status quo is too great and unnecessary. It is one of the great mysteries of the current government. It continues to contradict its own marketing materials and brochures every day. It is emphatically not a sound economic manager. It stands idly while opportunities for economic growth pass it by.

Bill C-52 is just the latest example of any easy fix but also of a government that responds only when pushed, and only then half-heartedly, to opportunities to improve the economy of the country and the lives of Canadians.

Rail Customer Protection ActRoutine Proceedings

June 20th, 2012 / 3:20 p.m.
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NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-441, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act (shippers' protection).

Mr. Speaker, the rail customer protection act would give every rail customer the right to have service agreements with rail companies, including performance standards, consequence for non-performance including penalties, proper notification for service changes and a requirement to use the dispute resolution process in the event of a disagreement.

Rail transport is the backbone of the Canadian economy. More than 70% of all service goods in Canada are shipped by rail, but the service is unreliable, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in economic damages every year. With this rail customer protection act, rail customers would finally get reliable and predictable rail freight services that deliver products on time.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)