We have before us what is very clearly an omnibus bill. It is a transportation bill that deals with many different pieces of legislation. It is more involved, more complex, and deals with more topics than perhaps the 95 theses. If the government wants indulgence today, it will not get it from members of the opposition.
I will continue to pontificate on this for a bit. We are seeing the government's total unwillingness to take its past commitments with respect to omnibus legislation seriously. It criticized the previous government for covering a range of different topics in the same bill. This was allegedly a big part of its push for changes to the Standing Orders. The Liberals said that the Standing Orders had to be changed because of the big problem of governments bringing forward omnibus bills. They said that a solution had to be found for this.
If the Liberals thought it was such a problem, the simple solution would have been for them to simply not propose omnibus bills. In so many different areas, whether it is Bill C-46, a bill that covers a range of different proposals on the issue of impaired driving, or a transportation bill, or budget bills they have brought forward, there is a real abundance of what clearly are omnibus bills even by their own definition.
The Liberals have said that an omnibus bill is a bill that members might want to vote for parts of it, but oppose other parts of it. Again, there is no credibility. Their policies and platform in the spirit of the season really is ghosted. Nothing is left but a ghost of the commitments the government made with respect to omnibus legislation.
I would like to talk specifically about some of the different pieces of the legislation.
Much of the discussion by members of the government has been about an alleged passenger bill of rights. I am sorry to report to members, but this is more trick than treat. The passenger bill of rights is skeletal at best. It is a framework for legislation that others will be asked to eventually develop, but the House is in no position to evaluate its substance. We are expected to theoretically consider a passenger bill of rights that somebody else might develop without any kind of clarity on its structure or how that would be approached or operationalized in practice. Again, it is more trick than treat even if passengers were expecting something more substantive.
As members of Parliament, we often fly. We could probably all share stories of less than ideal experiences we have had with air travel. It behooves the government to be more clear about what it is talking about when it brings these kind of measures before us. This is the Liberals' idea of being able to check a box for something they want to say they done but really is lacking in meat.
Many provisions in the bill come from a lot of different directions.
I also want to address the issue of joint ventures. If airlines want to propose a joint venture for a route, at present, the proposal is reviewed and ruled on by the competition commissioner, and hat is appropriate. The competition commissioner evaluates the impact of proposals on competition. When a joint venture is in place, that can have a negative impact on competition, because companies work together. Therefore, there is less competition that can be beneficial to consumers.
As a party that believes in the importance of functioning free markets, our caucus is very concerned about ensuring there is as much competition as well. We recognize if we want to get good outcomes for consumers there is a place for regulation. The best way to get to that end is that if we have robust competition, we are going to have good outcomes for consumers. Consumers can drive through the market the kinds of treatments and services they want by choosing between the different available options.
Unfortunately, this omnibus bill makes some changes to the framework in place for joint ventures. It gives authority to the minister instead of to the competition commissioner to make those decisions. In that context, it gives him a fairly wide discretion to make these determinations on the basis of public interest criteria. “The public interest” is the sort of concept that everybody is in favour of, but the devil is often in the details. When the minister has a wide discretion to make a determination on the basis of a concept of public interest, that really gives him the ability to do what he wants with respect to these joint ventures, and he may well be subject to influences and questions which are not in the public interest. We have regularly had concerns raised in this House about ministers who find themselves in conflicts of interest. Therefore, when we have cases of ministers who have been able to circumvent the law with respect to blind trusts, we should legitimately be raising concerns about the minister taking an authority that had previously been exercised through the commissioner.
One other issue that I want to address is with respect to interswitching for rail. The issues that I have addressed in the short space of my speech today again underline the breadth of transportation measures in this bill. That should be concerning to members. In the existing framework, the previous government brought in something that was called “extended” interswitching, which allowed for the use of another company's rail line. That would be done on a cost-plus framework, so the rates would vary depending on the costs that were in place for the company. It was fundamentally a competitive framework, because there was no fixed rate across the board for interswitching, rather there was a cost-plus framework, so it still encouraged some degree of flexibility and competition. However, the long-haul interswitching provisions the government has in place in this bill do not encourage competition. The way in which the rate is structured for that interswitching is based on an average rate, so it is the same rate that would be charged across different companies. It reduces the pressure for competition vis-à-vis different cases of interswitching. Our view is that competition is important, and that facilitating competition in the transportation sector and other sectors is beneficial for consumers. It leads to choice and innovation.
In conclusion, I would like to say that when we asked the minister about this during time allocation earlier, he said that he did not think we should be hearing more opposition speeches because they kept talking about the carbon tax. Since the minister does not want us to talk about the carbon tax, I think we actually have a duty to talk about the carbon tax in this context. Of course, the government does not want to talk about how negatively it is impacting the transportation industry by trying to impose a carbon tax, which is literally a tax on everything. It is trying to compel provinces, in a way that is profoundly disrespectful to provincial jurisdiction, to impose this carbon tax. I had the pleasure of presenting a petition for my constituents on this yesterday. Many of my constituents are very concerned about the negative impacts to the transportation, energy, and other sectors associated with the carbon tax.
To summarize, we have in front of us an omnibus bill. Again, the Liberal government is showing a disregard for its commitments. There are some specific things that I take issue with. The most publicized element, the air passenger bill of rights, is not at all clear. We would be much better off encouraging competition to help consumers have the flexibility to drive improvements in quality and innovation themselves.
The Liberals are in the process of taking choice away from consumers, talking about an air passenger bill of rights that is not clear or defined in any way. Of course, the government is proceeding with other measures that are very harmful for the transportation industry, such as the carbon tax.
On that basis, we oppose this bill.