Mr. Speaker, what a privilege it is to stand in my place today to talk about a fantastic piece of legislation.
I thought the minister really paid tribute to a lot of the fine work that was done, from first reading of the legislation to second reading debate to the standing committee debate, listening to what had taken place in the standing committees, then coming back to the House and going to the Senate, which has proposed amendments. I highlight that for a couple of reasons.
First and foremost, let us acknowledge that when the legislation was brought in, it was long overdue. The minister has taken the approach of making fairly comprehensive changes to our transportation industry. He recognizes how valuable that industry is to our country. The fact that he invited and welcomed input and in many ways accepted many different changes speaks volumes with respect to the degree in which the minister, working with cabinet and all members of this chamber, has seen this legislation get to where it is today. This is positive legislation.
When I was on the opposition benches, we would talk about government legislation and how the Harper government was never really open to opposition ideas when the legislation came before a standing committee. In this case, the members of the standing committee worked exceptionally well together. They came together on a number of different ideas, some Conservative, some the Liberal, some New Democrat. These individuals were prepared to put their party politics aside to try to improve the legislation. As a direct result, many amendments were passed, virtually through a consensus that was quickly evolving. From what I understand, originators of some of those amendments crossed party lines.
It then went to the Senate. As the minister mentioned, the Senate scrutinized the bill quite extensively. The senators met with many different stakeholders and came up with a series of amendments. The minister and the department, after doing some further consultations with others, decided the government was prepared to accept some amendments in order to further advance Bill C-49. A very open and transparent process has led us to what we are debating today.
I was provided some quotes to reinforce what I just said. If we look to the Grain Growers of Canada, grain farmers from across Canada are praising the decision by the Minister of Transport to accept the recommendations and amendments put forward with respect to Bill C-49, the transportation modernization act announced on April 27. It says that the decision demonstrates the government is listening to farmers in their calls for a balanced and accountable rail transport system.
Mr. Nielsen of the Grain Growers of Canada said:
We need the legislation in place well in advance of August 1, 2018 to ensure hard working middle class farmers don’t have to suffer through another grain shipping season with terrible rail service...“Accepting these amendments demonstrates that [the ministers of agriculture and transport] are working for the growth of the rural economy. Bill C-49 is key to the long term success of my industry and key to reaching the goal of $75 billion in agri-food exports by 2025. We urge parliament to pass it now.”
The fine work parliamentarians have done in both Houses has been recognized, but we are now being called upon to pass the legislation.
There are a number of things we have talked a great deal about. In listening to the debate today and at second reading, there is a very interesting and important point. I use this as an example. We hear a lot about air passengers and the grain industry, which I will provide comments on shortly. However, I always thought there was something quite interesting within the legislation that I have not really heard, and it was just recently pointed out to me. It comes from the Transportation Safety Board, where an idea has been talked about, a recommendation, for years now. I would have thought this was something that could and should have been acted on relatively quickly. The idea is to have cameras in locomotives. It is very much a safety issue. Even though we spend a lot of time listening to the debate and comments from across the way, whether it is now or at second reading, I cannot recall hearing that particular comment.
The bill is a fairly significant change from what we have had in the past. We would have to go many years before we would see the types of changes we have seen in this legislation. We have a minister, working with others, who has really advanced a major piece of legislation that is going to a profound positive impact on several sectors, on passengers, shippers, farmers, the rail industry as a whole. These are significant changes. We have a minister who has been able to pull all this together in a relatively short period of time.
I remember sitting in the opposition benches, and this is something I have made reference to in the past, and asking Stephen Harper directly about the piles of grain on the Prairies. The grain was not in storage bins. It was in the fields. There was the threat that some of that grain was starting to rot, while in the Pacific Ocean there were ships anchored and unable to come into port to be loaded because the grain was not at the port. The grain could not be exported.
Canada is a trading nation. We need trade. Trade is what allows us to grow our middle class, fuel our economy, and provide the types of jobs that are so very important. When we think of the example I raised back then, we get a sense of the frustration. Imagine the frustration for farmers, whose crops are literally sitting in the fields and they want to get it to market.
I am listening to the debate this morning, and Conservative members have a great deal of criticism toward this legislation. They were in government for many years and had the opportunity to bring forward this kind of legislation. They had many years to do it, but it has taken this government to ultimately get the job done. Now, it is not complete yet, and we very much appreciate all the fine work that has been done by members of all political entities in the House and the Senate.
We also recognize and acknowledge the immense amount of work done by the stakeholders. It is the stakeholders who continued to lobby year after year for the types of changes we are witnessing today. That is why people should not be surprised at the pressure on all of us to get this piece of legislation passed.
There is another interesting quote that was provided to me. I will mention this because I come from the Prairies and we are talking about the importance of wheat. The following is a quote from the Alberta Wheat Commission and Alberta Barley:
The Alberta Wheat Commission (AWC) and Alberta Barley say that [the] Federal Transport Minister[...]’s move to endorse key amendments to Bill C-49 in the House of Commons, as recommended by the Commissions, is good news for farmers.
They go on to say:
“We see the news from [the] Minister...as an excellent show of support for the agriculture industry and for farmers,” said Kevin Bender, AWC Chair. “
This is why it is so important that we advance this legislation.
I will give a real example of the type of frustration farmers have. Let us imagine a farmer has a contract with the rail company, and the farmer says he will deliver x amount of wheat on x date to the rail line. If that farmer does not fulfill the contract as he had committed to the rail line, the rail line could take action against the farmer, such as fines and so forth. The farmer would suffer penalties. That is the way it is and the way it was, yet it was never reciprocal. The farmer felt helpless. What about the railway company? If the farmer delivers the product on time to where it is supposed to be, should there not be any sort of obligation for the rail line? This legislation actually takes that into consideration so that it would be reciprocal. Not only would the rail line ensure more accountability for farmers, but, for the first time, it would be reciprocal, and farmers could look for some sort of justice if the rail line does not meet its obligation.
We can call it prairie frustration, but I want to ensure that products coming from the prairie provinces get to market. The same principle would apply for all regions of our country, but right now I am focused in particular on prairie farmers, because our wheat needs to get to market. We want rail line companies to work with us.
I was very happy when the Minister of Transport made the calls necessary to move additional grain. It was the Minister of Agriculture, working with the Minister of Transport, who corresponded with the rail lines to try to get more grain cars to the Prairies and out to our markets. It has improved a great deal over the last number of weeks, but there are a lot of advocacy groups and individual farmers who are still very much concerned about getting their product on the rails. It is not as though there is that much of a choice.
Winnipeg North, the area I represent, probably has the highest number of long-haul truck drivers and trucks per capita. Commodities can only go so far by long-haul trucking. We need an effective, efficient rail line, a rail line that is going to be accountable to producers and manufacturers. Whether it is a widget or a commodity, we need to be able to get them to market. We are talking about billions of dollars and millions of jobs which are affected by our transportation industry. That is why it is so critically important.
I want to also provide some comments in regard to our airline industry. Members of Parliament do a great deal of travelling. A number of us share some of the concerns that we hear from our constituents on a fairly regular basis, some of the frustrations that they face.
People can be on a flight scheduled for five o'clock and after they board the plane, the plane sits on the tarmac for what seems to be an endless amount of time. There are no requirements for the airline to serve its passengers. If passengers are left waiting on the tarmac for an extended period of time, one would like to think that some basics, such as water or food, would be available to them, but there is no guarantee of that. That is absolutely critical.
If members of Parliament were asked what kind of problems they have encountered, we would hear things such as sitting on the tarmac and lost luggage, which is fairly common. What about passengers who arrive at the airport to find that their flight has been cancelled? What about overbooking? All of these things take place and every airline has a different procedure to follow. This legislation takes a unifying approach. Every airline would be obligated to do certain things with respect to those situations I have mentioned.
Consultation does not stop there. If we pass this legislation, the regulations will follow. It is through those regulations that we will get the details as to what the consequences will be. This is something all of our constituents want to see.
I debated a bill on air passenger rights when I was in opposition. All of us are very sympathetic to this issue. We want to see this advance. It would be great to have more details, and a lot of those details will come in the form of regulations. Those regulations will be worked on proactively. The purpose of the legislation is to establish a framework that would provide good regulations. Our constituents have been calling for this for many years. They want some protection against the airlines.
That is the reason I started off by saying that this is a great piece of legislation. It is comprehensive. Those that were involved in putting it together, the average Canadian, stakeholders, members of Parliament, senators, staff within the minister's office, have come together to provide a comprehensive piece of legislation. Now we are at the final stages.
It is a good day when we see this kind of legislation move forward.