Madam Speaker, I would really like to say that I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-49, but that is not the case. In fact, I rise because I have an interest in this bill and because it is my privilege to do so. As my party's transport critic, I have the privilege of rising first today, which will not be the case for my colleagues who are directly affected by this bill but who will not have the chance to rise in the House because the bill is under time allocation. This is the first serious mistake.
The Minister of Transport told us that this is not an omnibus bill since it only affects transport legislation. However, we could be talking about an omnibus, mammoth, or even a Trojan horse bill, since it contains a number of intentional gaps.
For young people who do not yet have the right to vote, a good metaphor would be a chocolate Easter bunny. Everyone remembers biting into their first Easter bunny only to find it hollow, sadly. What a disappointment. Bill C-49 is kind of like that, especially when it comes to the passengers' bill of rights, which I will come back to.
In speeches from the government side, we hear a lot about Bill C-49 striking a balance, but nothing could be further from the truth. Hearing everybody's point of view is a good thing, but it does not mean that the middle ground the Liberals are proposing strikes that balance. I would suggest it is just the opposite.
It is no secret that I am fond of my fellow Conservative members of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, but we rarely see eye to eye. It would be a shock if one of my Conservative colleagues were to run as a New Democrat in the next election or vice versa. Having heard the same witnesses and the same evidence, they and I have managed to get ourselves on the same page with respect to quite a few amendments. If the right and the left have found a way to agree, how is it that the Liberals, who have positioned themselves as the extreme centre, are not listening to reason? We have to ask ourselves some serious questions about why that might be.
The chair of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities was particularly skilled at getting us to work together in a spirit of co-operation. However, unfortunately, the end results do that reflect that. I cannot believe that none of the amendments proposed by the opposition parties were good enough. Obviously, instructions came down from on high that the bill should remain as is, with no changes. That is not what the witnesses we heard from wanted, but that is what the ministers wanted, for their own reasons, which coincidentally are not consistent with the agenda they announced during the election campaign.
To give just one example, during the election campaign, the Liberals promised not to amend the Coasting Trade Act. However, Bill C-49 makes three major amendments to coastal trade. As far as I know, Canadian shippers did not storm the transport minister's office to tell him that he absolutely had to make changes to the Coasting Trade Act because it makes no sense.
The government is therefore responding to other lobby groups. We are seeing that more and more often. I have mentioned it in some of the questions I have had the opportunity to ask since debate began this morning. Lobby groups are having a growing influence on this government, and the outcome always seems to be the same: big business profits at the expense of consumers.
This debate is taking place under time allocation, and yet debate in the House is the only means we have left to try to shed some light on a given situation and change it, if possible.
There are probably dozens or even 100 or so members who wanted to speak in this debate but could not, and yet in a few hours, all 338 members will be voting either yes or no to express their support for or opposition to Bill C-49 as a whole, which is all over the map. This does not say much about our democratic process.
Furthermore, if we look at the Minister of Transport's legislative record, I have to say that after two years, I am not very impressed. There has been talk of a high-frequency train for decades, but nothing is happening on that file. On top of that, during the campaign, the Liberals promised to reverse the terrible amendments the previous government made to the Navigation Protection Act. Instead, we are heading in exactly the same direction as before, and the list of protected waterways in Canada is going to stay exactly as it appears in the schedule of the act, even though many witnesses, if not the majority, wanted the government to abolish that schedule altogether.
However, we are not there yet when it comes to protecting navigation, when it comes to developing rail transportation, or with respect to Bill C-49.
I want to talk about what is not in Bill C-49. After all, it is an omnibus bill that is supposed to cover just about everything that has to do with transportation.
At the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, we had the chance to conduct a study on aviation safety and we had a significant number of studies on rail transportation. One thing that kept coming up in both files was fatigue among both pilots and train conductors. Fatigue is the cause of most accidents or incidents. We never want accidents to happen, or at least we hope to keep them to a minimum.
What does Bill C-49 propose to combat fatigue or to take a new approach to air or rail transportation? It seems to me that this also falls under transportation. Guess what? There is not a word. There is nothing in Bill C-49 to address this major issue.
Let us now talk about some of the dubious aspects of this bill. The first one that I want to address has to do with airport safety, especially as it relates to the potential development of regional airports.
Security measures at Canada's major international borders are working well, although there are still questions, mainly about direct costs charged to passengers. Under the former government, a lot of money was charged for security. It is clear that there has been no improvement in this practice under the Liberals, because even more money is being charged for security. According to the most recent data from Statistics Canada, $636 million was collected from passengers and $550 million was actually spent on security measures. That is a difference of $100 million. Where is that money going? It goes into the consolidated revenue fund and apparently is used for other measures. Once again, just like employees' employment insurance contributions that were used for other purposes, passengers are being charged more money for air security than is being invested into the security network.
Furthermore, while millions of dollars are being raked in, regional airports are told that they can certainly expand, but they will have to do so on a cost recovery basis.
What that means, for example for a regional airport such as the Trois-Rivières airport, is that it can obtain CATSA services, but it will have to foot the bill. Oddly enough, Bill C-49 makes no mention of a great report that I have here called “Expanding Passengers Security Screenings at Regional Airports”. This report is signed by no less than nine of the largest airport authorities in three Canadian provinces, namely Quebec, Ontario, and Alberta. The report proposes measures other than cost recovery. Even after the document and research findings were presented in June 2016, which is not that long ago, we have heard nothing from Transport Canada. It is still going with a cost recovery model.
I will give an example of what this can mean for an airport like the one in Trois-Rivières. The Trois-Rivières airport was originally a very small airport, mainly intended for what I would call recreational flying. It offered flying lessons and skydiving, but it was really tiny. Then the city of Trois-Rivières decided to massively expand its airport facilities to turn them into a major economic driver. This involved making numerous investments, such as extending the runway so any jumbo jet could land there. The airport also invested in high-intensity approach lighting so planes could land at any time, day or night. The area's economic activity was diversified, creating a major aerospace cluster in Trois-Rivières. The city has welcomed several aerospace companies, such as Premier Aviation, which is now contracted to maintain much of Air Canada's fleet at its facility in Trois-Rivières. As a recent $500-million investment shows, this company is thriving. Trois-Rivières' aerospace market, specifically its airport, has come a long way from its original recreational niche. It is now a centre for economic development and a major regional hub for business people flying to other destinations in Canada or internationally.
Over the last few years, partnerships have also been developed with aviation companies that offer charter flights to southern destinations. Market studies have been done and Trois-Rivières is clearly the heart of Quebec for a reason. We are the metaphorical heart but also the geographic heart of Quebec. If someone wanted to take a charter flight for a trip down south and had the choice between going to Trois-Rivières with traffic jams that easily last five to six minutes, or to the airport in Montréal, the choice would be quite easy. However, that whole study, that whole potential and all of those agreements already negotiated with carriers have fallen through because CATSA security measures are only available for regional airports through cost recovery. That is totally ridiculous. If an airport like Trois-Rivières, Sherbrooke or any other regional airport has to cover the cost of security measures alone, that drives up air ticket prices considerably. That means that the company is no longer able to compete on the market and the agreement collapses.
However, other options are considered in the report I referred to earlier. In particular, there is the possibility of all amounts collected for security being allocated to security expenses and not returning to the government’s consolidated coffers. We could also consider the possibility of all transportation costs being distributed among all passengers on the flight.
Flying south, whether from Trois-Rivières, Québec City or Montreal, involves the same business and the same security services. The cost could therefore be divided between all travellers annually, instead of the number of passengers related strictly to one airport or another.
There are many possible solutions that should have been heard, discussed, and questioned, but Bill C-49 sweeps all that under the rug, a fitting image today for Halloween.
I just want to say a word about cabotage. I would remind members that the Liberal government committed during the election campaign to not touch the Coasting Trade Act. However, there are three amendments in that regard. There are not one, not two, but three major amendments regarding coasting trade that directly affect the Canadian marine industry.
What are those three amendments in a few words? There is the repositioning of empty containers, dredging activities, and the transportation of bulk products between Montreal and Halifax.
Those are three important areas of economic activity that systematically fell to Canadian shipowners and that could now be offered to foreign shipowners. Because of the market opening under the terms of the economic agreement that we signed with Europe, they are saying that European companies cannot be prevented from conducting dredging in the waters of the St. Lawrence River. Oddly, however, no one can confirm that the opposite is true and that Canadian shipowners would be able to bid on dredging contracts in Europe.
Beyond what might be seen as relatively unfair competition, it is important to realize that European dredging companies, for example, that operate all year long and are much larger, may be better able to consider crossing the Atlantic and remaining in our waters, where they can be competitive, while the opposite is quite hard to imagine.
Trois-Rivières is also a port city. It is impossible to understand this without having visited an organization like the Foyer des marins in Trois-Rivières, where shipowners come from all around the world, but it only takes a few exchanges, sometimes with the help of hand gestures because my knowledge of foreign languages is limited, to realize that there are fundamental differences between foreign-flagged vessels and their crews and Canadian-flagged vessels and their crews. I mention no country in particular as to not single anyone out, but first, we are talking about very different salaries, working conditions and expenses. These amendments to the Coasting Trade Act will therefore create unfair competition that no one ever asked for, certainly not in Canada.
I would like to read one or two quotes. St. Lawrence Shipoperators said, “The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement entered into with the European Union opened an unprecedented breach in the Coasting Trade Act by giving ships of all flags access to certain parts of the Canadian market. Bill C-49 widens that breach. We are witnessing the erosion of the Coasting Trade Act.”
Maritime Magazine said, “After years of underfunding of port infrastructure, disengagement from dredging, and inaction on renewing the fleet of icebreakers, it is now coasting trade that is being sorely tested. It is important for decision-makers to understand the scope of the economic, social and environmental role of maritime transportation and the importance for the country of having a strong and health maritime industry and domestic fleet.”
Those are just two examples about coasting trade. I could also have talked about the Infrastructure Bank that is once again being quietly included in Bill C-49. I could have talked about the passengers' bill of rights. I could have talked about joint ventures.
I could have talked about so many subjects that it shows once again that we are dealing with an omnibus bill and that it is a total disgrace to ask all parliamentarians to vote yes or no on an omnibus bill. It is one more thing that the Liberals committed to stop doing during the election campaign. They seem to have a short memory.