Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise this evening to debate Bill C-49, the transportation modernization act, at second reading.
The bill could simply be renamed the transportation omnibus act for the number of different bills being amended, with many of changes being more than just technical in nature. The Air Canada Public Participation Act, the Canada Transportation Act, the CN Commercialization Act, the Railway Safety Act, the Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board Act, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority Act, the Coasting Trade Act, the Canada Marine Act, the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, the Competition Act, the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act, the 2009 Budget Implementation Act, and the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act are all being amended.
How this squares with the Liberal election promise not to use omnibus legislation is beyond me. Do not get me wrong, I am not complaining about an omnibus bill, just the fact that the Liberals did and then made a promise they knew they would not keep. Furthermore, when I introduced a motion in transport committee last week calling on the committee to write to the Minister of Transport and his government House leader to ask them to split the bill into the following sections, rail shipping, rail safety, air, and marine, to provide an enhanced and possibly expedited scrutiny, every single Liberal member voted against it without even a single comment as to why.
I found this vote particularly ironic, as it was the Liberal member for Niagara Centre who raised the idea of expediting the passage of the bill in the first place, in order to provide grain farmers with a greater amount of certainty as they negotiate contracts for future shipping seasons.
The more measures that a bill contains, the more time it takes to provide adequate scrutiny. Separating the bill would be the easiest way to facilitate expedited passage, and thus my motion calling on the bill to be split into several parts.
Unfortunately, Liberal members were unwilling to split the bill into these natural divisions. This does not inspire confidence that when the bill eventually does reach committee, the Liberal Party members will be open to any amendments. While Bill C-49 is supposed to be the Minister of Transport's legislative response to the 2015 Canada Transportation Act review led by the Hon. David Emerson, it would appear that what we have before us is a bill that is designed to change the channel from some of the bad news that keeps piling up for the Liberals.
The government's communications strategy for this legislation has overwhelmingly concentrated on the air passenger compensation regime that is being introduced, and not the other very consequential measures. Here is what the Minister of Transport posted on his Twitter feed as he introduced this legislation, “These air passenger rights will ensure that travellers are treated like people, not just a number.”
Like many members here, I travel a lot and only have positive things to say about all the employees working for the airlines and at our airports. Of course, on occasion, flights do not go as we hope, but the Minister of Transport appears to be willing to pit passengers against airlines rather than fixing the structural problems in Canada's aviation regime.
This legislation does not spell out what the compensation regime will be, just that there will be one. The bill states that after consulting with only the Minister of Transport, the Canadian Transportation Agency will make regulations concerning carriers' obligations toward passengers. However, for even greater clarity, subsection (2) of proposed section 86.11 states that the Canadian Transportation Agency must comply with any instruction from the minister with regard to setting regulations concerning carriers' obligations to passengers.
What this means is that the Canadian Transportation Agency is tentatively responsible for setting what financial penalties a carrier would have to pay to the passenger in the case of a service breach, unless the minister is dissatisfied with the level of prescribed compensation that the CTA decides is appropriate, in which case he or she can dictate what that level of compensation will be.
It is noteworthy that the agency will, by law, only be allowed to consult with the Minister of Transport concerning the setting of these regulations, and not with consumer advocate groups, airlines, airports, Nav Canada and other stakeholders in the sector.
I do not understand what the purpose of consulting only the minister is. If the Canadian Transportation Agency is to be an arm's-length organization, this legislation clearly diminishes its independence. If the minister will not allow the agency to independently set the parameters of the passenger compensation regime, he should just spell out in legislation what it will be and let members of Parliament and stakeholder groups decide whether this is a good proposal or not.
If this legislation were truly aimed at reducing the cost of travel for the passenger, while increasing service and convenience, the minister would immediately lobby to have the government's carbon tax, which will make every single flight more expensive, withdrawn. He would reform the air passenger security system, which was universally identified as a major irritant for all passengers during the Canada Transportation Act review by all the organizations that participated in the process.
While it would be preferable to have the sections of the bill dealing with air and rail examined as stand-alone pieces of legislation, I can only surmise that the government's complete mismanagement of the House's agenda has led us to the point where an omnibus transportation bill is what we have in front of us today. At least we have finally begun debating something in the transport sector, now that we are two years into the government's mandate. So far, the only achievement the minister has to show in terms of legislation is the act to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act.
Let us talk about Bill S-2, an act to amend the Motor Vehicle Safety Act and to make a consequential amendment to another act. This was first introduced by the government's representative in the Senate 13 months ago and passed third reading in the Senate on February 2. The minister claimed that Bill S-2 was a priority in his speech to the Montreal Chamber of Commerce in November 2016, yet it has not been touched since.
On May 12, just days before the introduction of the legislation we are debating today, the Minister of Transport introduced the oil tanker moratorium act, a bill that his own officials conceded would only impact the future development of Canada's oil sands and no other activity in northern British Columbia. Equally concerning about this oil tanker moratorium, which could be renamed the oil pipeline moratorium, is that there is considerable support among first nations on B.C.'s coast for energy development opportunities, but the wishes of these first nations are being ignored. For the Liberals to move forward with this tanker moratorium without properly consulting coastal first nations is extremely hypocritical.
The Liberals go to painstaking lengths to emphasize the amount of consultation they undertake, but it is becoming more and more apparent that their interest in consulting is about being told what they want to hear and not about listening to differing views. If anyone needs further proof that Bill C-48 was introduced only for political purposes, it is that this moratorium has been introduced as a stand-alone bill and not as part of this omnibus package we are debating today.
The Minister of Transport's silence and inaction on critical and time-sensitive transport issues, especially rail transport, is leading to uncertainty for both shippers and the railroads, which both want certainty as they negotiate shipping rates for the season.
That is why over the past several months I have asked many times whether the government intends to renew the sunsetting measures in Bill C-30 before they expire on August 1, 2017. The response I have been given time and time again is that the government recognizes the urgency to get this done and that legislation is forthcoming. Unfortunately, the Liberals have made a muck of this, and the key measures in Bill C-30 will sunset before any replacement legislation can receive royal assent and become law.
Last week in the transport committee, a Liberal member moved a motion calling on the committee to begin its consideration of this bill, Bill C-49, in September, before the House begins sitting, to expedite the study of the sections of the bill that deal with the shipping of grain. While Conservatives have no objection to considering this legislation in September before the House returns from the summer break, government members fail to realize that our producers needed them to turn their attention to this months ago, as the measures will sunset on August 1 of this year. At best, there will be a two-and-a-half-month gap between when the measures in Bill C-30 sunset and replacement legislation is in place.
By the time this legislation has passed, the majority of contracts for this year will have been negotiated with the law in flux. Because of the government's mismanagement of the legislative agenda, these popular measures will sunset without replacement, and shippers will be the worse off.
This is important to note, because for a combination of reasons, including a lack of rail capacity, preparedness by railways and shippers, weather, and the size of the crop, western Canada's 2013-14 grain crop did not get to market in a timely manner. Consequently, the previous Conservative government introduced Bill C-30, which gave the Canada Transportation Agency the power to allow shippers access to regulated interswitching up to 160 kilometres, mandated that CN and CP both haul at least 500 tonnes of grain per week, and introduced a new definition of adequate and suitable service levels. With this extension, the number of primary grain elevators with access to more than one railroad with the extended interswitching limits increased from 48 to 261.
These measures were met with universal support from the members of the shipping community, because even if they did not use interswitching, they could use it as a tool to increase their negotiating position with the railways, as the shippers knew exactly how much the interswitch portion of the haul would cost them.
At the same time, the government announced that the Canada Transportation Act statutory review would be expedited, and it began a year early to provide long-term solutions to the grain backlog of the 2013-14 shipping season and other problems in the transport sector within Canada. The hon. David Emerson, a former Liberal and Conservative cabinet minister, was tasked with leading the review. This review was completed in the fall of 2015 and was on the Minister of Transport's desk shortly before Christmas. The minister then tabled this report in mid-February 2016 and promised wide consultations on the report. As the key measures of Bill C-30 were going to sunset on August 1, 2016, and parliamentarians were hearing from the shipping community that it would like to see these extended, Parliament voted in June 2016 to extend those provisions for one year.
In the fall of 2016, the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities undertook a study of Bill C-30 and held a number of meetings on the merits of these measures and whether they should be allowed to sunset. We were assured that if we lived with this extension, these issues would be dealt with by August 1, 2017.
The vast majority of the testimony heard was supportive of maintaining the 160-kilometre regulated interswitching limit at committee, which is why the committee's first recommendation was the following:
That the Canadian Transportation Agency retain the flexibility provided under the Canada Transportation Act by the Fair Rail For Grain Farmers Act to set interswitching distances up to 160 km, in order to maintain a more competitive operating environment for rail shippers with direct access to only one railway company.
Anyone who has read this bill will know that the government ignored the committee's main recommendation. At some point during this debate, I hope to hear from Liberal members on the transport committee about whether they believe that the government was right to ignore the committee's recommendations, and if so, whether the entire committee study was just a waste of time.
Basically, what the government is proposing with this legislation is to replace the 160-kilometre interswitching limit with the creation of a new long-haul interswitching tool that would be in effect between Windsor and Kamloops on hauls of up to 1,200 kilometres, or up to 50% of the length of the entire haul. Shippers would be charged the regulated interswitching rate for the first 30 kilometres of the haul and then a Canada Transportation Agency-determined rate, which would be determined on a case-by-case basis based on the price of a similar haul, for the remainder of the distance to the interswitch point. Shippers would only be able to interswitch at the first available interswitch point within the zone.
What the government has done is take a little-used existing remedy, called a competitive line rate, and rename it long-haul interswitching.
Under a competitive line rate, a shipper could apply to the agency to set the amount of the competitive line rate, the designation of the continuous route, the designation of the nearest interchange, and the manner in which the local carrier would fulfill its service obligations. We know from history that this remedy was infrequently used because of the prerequisite that the shipper first reach an agreement with the connecting carrier, and the two main carriers effectively declined to compete with one another through CLRs. What we do not know is what the difference will be at a practical level between this new long-haul interswitching and the existing competitive line rates.
Like competitive line rates, long-haul interswitching is a much more complicated system for shippers to use, and the jury is still out on whether this will achieve the minister's stated objective of improving rail access for captive shippers. When Bill C-30 was first introduced, there was universal support among shippers for the extended interswitching. So far, very few organizations I have spoken to can say that this tool is better.
In conclusion, this much is certain: the key measures in Bill C-30 will be allowed to sunset on August 1, before this legislation receives royal assent. The Liberals have had nearly a full year to get new legislation in place but failed to do so, and shippers will suffer the consequences.
Canada remains one of the most expensive jurisdictions in which to operate an airline, and it is about to become even more so with the imposition of a national carbon tax. This bill does nothing to address the systemic cost issues, which are passed on to passengers, that were identified by the Transportation Act review. As has been the case with almost everything with the current government, optics trump everything, and this bill exemplifies that.