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Transportation Modernization ActGovernment Orders

October 31st, 2017 / 4:20 p.m.
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Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Madam Speaker, before I begin, I wish to notify you that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Windsor West.

When I look at this bill and examine some of the debate surrounding it, I think about some of the Liberals' key messaging over the last two years, specifically how they like to talk a lot about helping the middle class and those working hard to join it. However, when we look at some of the measures contained within Bill C-49, I believe that some of them are indeed designed to help the corporate class and not the middle class.

I want to concentrate my speech, because to give a 10-minute speech on such an expansive bill makes is nearly impossible to do in the detail it deserves, but there are a few key areas I wish to touch on that I believe have incredible significance for the constituents I represent and, indeed, many Canadians across this great country.

We have opposed some of the principal amendments proposed in this bill. I have to give great credit to my colleague from Trois-Rivières for his incredible work on the transport committee, and the way he has informed our caucus of the work he is doing. He did a lot of great work on this bill. He attempted to shift it, to amend it, to change it, and to make it more amenable. We can see that those efforts came to naught when the Liberal-dominated committee chose to reject them.

The first measure in the bill that we oppose is with respect to the arrangements between airlines. This bill amends the Transportation Act to give the Minister of Transport the power to approve joint venture arrangements between airlines even if the Commissioner of Competition finds an arrangement to be anti-competitive and one that could increase the price of airline tickets. Again, this measure is not really designed to help middle-class Canadians, who will have to suffer through this if prices are increased.

Next, the Transportation Act is amended to increase the limit on foreign ownership of Canadian airlines from 25% to 49%. I believe there was even a study cited on Transport Canada's website showing that this would have absolutely zero effect on increasing the competitiveness of Canadian airlines. Therefore, we have to wonder why that measure is in here.

Another point is with respect to the amendments to the Railway Safety Act that would will force railway companies to use video and voice recorders.

Of course, there is also the attempt to create some sort of passengers' bill of rights, wherein the Canadian Transportation Agency is ordered to propose and make regulations to establish a new passengers' rights regime. Indeed, this last issue is one that is very near and dear to our caucus. In previous parliaments, several members have fought long and hard to codify a passengers' bill of rights through private members' bills. Therefore, although we are glad to at least see the attempt made here, we are certainly unhappy with the end result.

This bill primarily protects the interests of foreign investors and violates the right to privacy and workers' rights. That is specifically with respect to railway workers.

We are certainly in favour of improving the rights of air travellers and protections for grain shippers, but we want to call upon the government, and indeed we have called upon the government, to separate those specific measures out of this omnibus bill so they could be studied as separate pieces of legislation and passed into law. I think the government side would have found a lot of co-operation from the Conservatives and NDP if those measures had been left to standalone bills so they could be examined in the detail they deserved.

We opposed Bill C-49 at second reading, and certainly made attempts to amend the bill at committee. Many amendments were put forward by both the Conservatives and the NDP, but ultimately many of them did not make it. We moved amendments specifically to establish far more concrete air passenger protection and compensation measures, to make the interswitching routes more accessible to grain farmers, and to protect the labour rights of train conductors, which were all rejected by Liberal members of Parliament.

Now I would like to talk about the joint venture agreements between airlines. Currently, the Commissioner of Competition has the power to determine whether these joint venture arrangements are anti-competitive and whether to apply to the Competition Tribunal. It gives me great pause to now know that the minister is in fact going to have final power over these measures.

The bureaucracy is supposed to be non-partisan and not influenced by outside events. However, cabinet is lobbied extensively by many different companies and private interest groups. In the current government and in previous governments, once corporations try to bend the ear of government, legislation sometimes is changed in their favour. To give the minister this kind of power, a person who can be lobbied by industry, and who perhaps gets a greater voice than the average Canadian citizen does, gives me cause for concern.

If Air Canada proposed an arrangement to merge its operations with those of an American company, even if the commissioner were to find that agreement would lessen competition among airlines and would increase ticket prices for passengers, the minister could still approve that arrangement. We are quite concerned with this.

With the amendments to the Railway Safety Act, Bill C-49 would force railway companies to fit their locomotives with video and voice recorders. The government wants us to believe this measure will improve rail safety, but we are worried that Canadian National and Canadian Pacific could use the information to discipline their employees and measure their productivity.

We believe the bill is far too vague and does not specify how the private information of train conductors would be accessed, collected, and used by the minister and the railway companies. Therefore, we proposed amendments to limit the use of these video and voice recorders to the Transportation Safety Board. Of course, that was rejected by the Liberals. We have concerns this may violate those workers' charter protections, specifically under section 8 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The vice president of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference stated:

We think the bill in its present form is contrary to our rights as Canadians. To exempt 16,000 railroaders from PIPEDA, we believe is not appropriate, and this legislation would call for a specific exemption for the purpose of our employers, the people who have been found to foster a culture of fear, to watch. We have a problem with that.

I would like to move on to the part that has the most significance for people all across Canada, the venture to try to establish some sort of rights regime for passengers.

In the previous Parliament, the NDP introduced Bill C-459, which would have codified many of these measures and put them explicitly into an act. It was a far stronger effort than what we see in Bill C-49. The measures in Bill C-49 give the minister the power to make regulations.

Regulations can be well and good for certain measures. For certain legislation, we want the minister to have that leeway to change rights and so on. However, we again have to raise our concerns that if airline companies start lobbying the minister really hard on these, how are the regulations eventually going to turn out? Are the regulations going to start benefiting airline companies, or are they honestly going to be on the side of passengers? That is why we feel codifying these in the actual bill rather than leaving them to regulations would have been a far stronger measure.

My concerns are not unjustified with respect to Air Canada. I would like to remind members of when we were busy debating Bill C-10, which was the government's attempt to legislate outsourcing for Air Canada. It was an amendment to the Air Canada Public Participation Act. Air Canada definitely had the ear of the government during that time. It brought forward a bill that specifically benefited that company and left many workers out in the cold. It gave Air Canada the ability to outsource jobs if it so wished.

Half measures are not what we were expecting after this length of time. Two years have passed. We would have liked to have seen some greater efforts in many of these areas. We are disappointed that this bill is the final result.