Mr. Speaker, I would say that I am deeply disappointed in many ways, as I rise to speak to Bill C-49.
First, the bill was sponsored by the minister whose name I must not mention in the House, but who was an astronaut in his previous career. I admit that I have a virtually unbounded admiration for all Canadians who pursue a career as an astronaut. They are truly remarkable people with extraordinary resumés.
That is why when the Minister of Transport, a former astronaut—once an astronaut, always an astronaut, I imagine—told me in the House that he was studying the bill, that answer had tremendous value to me. I recognize him for the intellectual that he is, and I told myself that his reflections would surely bear fruit.
When I heard him answer that he was thinking about the relevance of the high-frequency train, for example, at first I was motivated and awaited his response impatiently. When the minister told us, month after month, that he was studying the transportation issues in Bill C-49, I told myself that the bill he finally tabled would be a bang-up piece of legislation.
For example, we are now awaiting the results of an inquiry into the events at Lake Saint-Pierre. I am thinking that will also be extraordinary.
However, on this rare occasion where the minister introduces something in the House, Bill C-49 in this case, I must say that my disappointment is as strong as my expectations used to be.
What do we find in this legislation, into which the minister has invested more than 18 months of study, thinking, reading and, I expect, exhaustive consultation? We find three kinds of measures.
I would say that the first category is made up of empty shells and the second, of questionable measures. The term “questionable” does not necessarily mean that they are bad. Some are definitely bad and should be removed. Others may deserve some amendments or would require a better argument to show how they may deliver on the promised Eldorado.
The bill does include a few good measures, which are sadly lost in a sea of measures trying to tackle any and all possible aspects of transportation. As a result, as happens too often in this House, we are asked to cast only one vote and to swallow a lot of nonsense in order to support the few measures that may make a difference. As my colleague rightly said earlier, this bill should be split in two.
Let us then focus on these three categories. I will try to give examples that are concrete enough to see what things could look like. Let us see first what has probably been, in the media, the most high-profile element of the minister's presentation on Bill C-49, the new passenger bill of rights. To me, it is the perfect example of an empty shell.
I said earlier, while asking a question to the minister, that in the previous Parliament, the NDP had introduced a passenger rights bill, which the minister voted for. The bill was complete and skilfully written. It was the result of much hard work. Let me give just one example to see what that bill looked like.
First, let us talk about cancelled flights, something that probably happened to each one of us. Clause 10 of the NDP bill provided for a reimbursement or re-routing. The clause reads as follows:
The air carrier shall offer without charge to every passenger to whom this section applies the choice between
(a) reimbursement of the full cost of the ticket at the price at which it was bought, for the part or parts of the journey not made—and for the part or parts already made if the flight is no longer serving any purpose in relation to the passenger's original travel plan—together with, when relevant, a return flight to the first point of departure at the earliest opportunity;
Furthermore, there was money allocated to all of that. We were therefore talking about flight cancellations and flight delays, with very specific and well-thought-out measures. We were also talking about the rights of passengers who, sometimes, have to wait long minutes, if not hours, on the tarmac because the plane cannot take off for some reason and who, at this time, have no rights. We were talking about passengers being denied boarding, their rights to be refunded or redirected, and their right to information. In short, this bill already contained all the necessary measures.
What does Bill C-49 propose? With regard to flight cancellations, we are going to ask Transport Canada to make proposals. With regard to flight delays, we are going to have to wait for Transport Canada's proposals. With regard to passengers' rights, including on the tarmac, Transport Canada will probably conduct a study on this. We realize that the list is getting longer and that, right now, air passengers have no idea what their rights will be under Bill C-49.
As we say back home, the minister has simply kicked the can down the road, but one day, he will have to deal with the can. The government is going to ask me and all members of Parliament to vote on that according to our conscience? Should I be for or against the total lack of substance? It seems to me like a figment of my imagination or an abstract idea on which I cannot vote. If the minister has not finished his bill, he should do his homework first, then present us with his bill later.
In fact, I find it rather puzzling that the minister asks airlines to comply with the spirit of the law while we are studying Bill C-49 and while the transportation agency will be drafting regulations that the minister could well reject, which would delay the process even more.
Could someone explain to me the spirit of an empty shell? I simply cannot understand it.
The foreign ownership limit for air carriers, which I asked about earlier, will increase from 25% to 49%. What is this decision based on? It is based on a recommendation of the Emerson report, which does not show beyond any doubt, or even with some doubt, the relevance of this measure when it comes to market competitiveness and the results or positive impact that it could have for passengers in terms of air ticket costs, for example.
A study by the University of Manitoba shows the exact opposite. It shows, beyond any doubt, that an increase in the foreign ownership of a Canadian airline cannot be linked to an effect on airfares.
Again, why is the government introducing this measure? I do not know. Bill C-49 is nebulous. I do not think we will be able to solve this issue given the short amount of time that will be available to the committee to study a bill as large as this one. There is another serious problem here, namely the Liberal bulldozer. The Liberals dragged their feet on introducing measures, that is, if there are even any in the bill, and they are now trying to rush the bill through.
I would like to come back to the agreements between airlines, which the minister also talked about. Again, like we have seen many times before, the legislation enhances the powers of the minister. I must say that every time that happens, a little light goes on. It tells me that we should be worried about what is happening. What powers does the minister want, and what good comes from it?
Basically, these joint venture agreements are nothing but a type of partial merger that is approved when rules of competition continue to apply. That is why entities like the Competition Bureau, which is the competition tribunal, exist.
Members will recall the joint venture between Air Canada and United Continental Holdings. These two airlines asked to merge their operations for 15 air routes. At the time, the Competition Bureau approved five of them, and the situation has not changed since then.
That means that even if that is against the rules of competition, in the public interest—another concept that is not defined in bill C-49—the minister could muzzle the Competition Tribunal, and authorize that joint venture for the 15 air routes. Again, there is a lot of uncertainty, and I am unsure as to how to vote on this bill, for as long as I do not understand its implications.
As for the Coasting Trade Act, maybe members will recall that during the elections, liberals had promised not to touch it. That is another example of a broken promise that liberals intend to be flexible on, circumvent, or, more specifically, break.
Therefore, what is being proposed in the bill? We are now told that the repositioning of containers, which was allowed only for Canadian shipowners, will now be permitted for ships registered in other countries. One could say this is meant to promote a competitive market, but we all know that foreign shipowners do not necessarily have to follow the same rules and the same requirements regarding their staff as Canadian shipowners. Chances are that we will never see what I would call fair competition.
Dredging and the carriage of bulk commodities will be allowed between the ports of Montreal and Halifax for ships registered in a member state of the European Union. I suppose this is meant for the government to implement the agreement it is about to sign with the European Union.
However, before making such a public statement, one should specify what the reciprocal measures are to look like. Will Canadian ships be allowed to carry bulk shipments on the other side of the Atlantic? The bill does not say anything about this. The law would also be amended to allow ports to obtain financing from the famous infrastructure bank, which everyone talks about because it would not serve anybody's interest, except the Liberal Party's wealthy friends.
Let me remind everyone that the infrastructure bank is supposed to finance projects worth $100 million or more. Therefore, for an ordinary port like the one in Trois-Rivières, I am not sure that bank is the finding of the century. This is part of the measures that are not very well explained in the program.
As far as the Railway Safety Act is concerned, it would have been interesting to see a clear and precise provision in the bill ensuring that a rail bypass was built for our fellow citizens in Lac-Mégantic. Instead, we are being told again that corporations' interests will prevail over the workers' interests. Among other things, railway companies will have to equip their locomotives with voice and video recorders.
First of all, if the goal is to give the Transportation Safety Board, or TSB, additional tools so it can investigate after an accident and make sure that whatever caused it would never happen again, one could say that the voice and video recorders are the equivalent of the black box aboard airplanes and might be acceptable. The point where things become unacceptable is where railway companies have access to these audio and video recordings for, perhaps, security reasons, but also potentially to monitor the work of their own employees. It bears asking whether such a measure, which enables employers to watch employees through a camera lens all day long, violates the employees' right to privacy. This question has to be asked.
It is especially important to ask how having a voice and video recording device in a locomotive would somehow resolve the issue of conductor fatigue. That is a problem that has absolutely not been resolved. Ostensibly for security reasons, we have completely side-stepped the main issue and the main risk factor, namely human fatigue. It is absolutely unbelievable; so much for that.
The previous speaker spoke at length about grain transportation. There is a glimmer of hope in that section of Bill C-49 that could alleviate some of the long-standing concerns that producers have and potentially address the issue of standards sunsetting on August 1. I have a really hard time understanding this. Given the time necessary to give a bill royal assent, even in a streamlined fashion, I fail to see how royal assent could come down from the Senate like a dove from the sky before August 1.
There an urgency about these measures, and a lot of them seem interesting, but they cannot be demonstrated, and we do not have the time to consult with key stakeholders to see if, for example, new provisions about interswitching fit their needs, and if the new ways to calculate the guaranteed minimum income meet their expectations. There are several.
I want to talk about two things. It is clear from what I am trying to explain, and will not have the time to finish, that supporting this bill at second reading will be very difficult for me. That being said, even if I vote against Bill C-49 at second reading, I will make sure to work as hard as possible in committee to propose amendments to strengthen it. We could even support the bill at third reading if the Liberals can show its usefulness.
For this purpose, in the interest of consistency and to prioritize issues of grain transportation and postpone studying the bill's other sections that do not involve such tight deadlines, I seek unanimous consent of the House to move the following motion: That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, Bill C-49, an act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and other acts respecting transportation and to make related and consequential amendments to other acts, tabled in Parliament on May 16, 2017, be amended by removing the following clauses: (a) clauses 3 to 13 and 22 to 59, related to grain transportation; that the clauses mentioned in section (a) of this motion do compose Bill C-51, an act to change temporary agreements related to grain transportation; that Bill C-51 be deemed read a first time and printed; that the order for second reading of the said bill provide for the referral to the Standing Committee on Transport; that Bill C-49 retain the status on the order paper that it had prior to the adoption of this order; that Bill C-49 be reprinted as amended; and that the law clerk and parliamentary counsel be authorized to make any technical changes or corrections as may be necessary to give effect to this motion.
That is the motion, and it is a simple one. It seeks to remove from Bill C-49 all clauses related to grain transportation, so that we can quickly study the legislation in time for the August 1st deadline. We would look at the remaining clauses later.
That is both my proposal and my conclusion.