Strengthening the Port System and Railway Safety in Canada Act

An Act to amend the Customs Act, the Railway Safety Act, the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992, the Marine Transportation Security Act, the Canada Transportation Act and the Canada Marine Act and to make a consequential amendment to another Act


Omar Alghabra  Liberal


In committee (House), as of Sept. 26, 2023

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This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends several Acts in order to strengthen the port system and railway safety in Canada.
The enactment amends the Customs Act to require that, on request, any person in possession or control of imported goods make those goods available for examination in accordance with regulations and deliver those goods, or cause them to be delivered, to a secure area that meets the requirements set out in regulation.
The enactment also amends the Railway Safety Act to, among other things,
(a) add a definition of “safety” that includes the concept of security;
(b) prohibit interference with any railway work, railway equipment or railway operation, or damage or destruction of any railway work or railway equipment, without lawful excuse, in a manner that threatens the safety of railway operations;
(c) prohibit behaviour that endangers or risks endangering the safety of a station, railway equipment or individuals who are at the station or on board the railway equipment and unruly behaviour toward employees, agents or mandataries of a company;
(d) authorize the Minister to order a company to take necessary corrective measures if the Minister believes that
(i) a measure taken by the company in relation to a requirement of a regulation made under subsection 18(2.1) has deficiencies that risk compromising the security of railway transportation,
(ii) the security management system developed by the company has deficiencies that risk compromising railway security, or
(iii) the implementation of the company’s security management system has deficiencies that risk compromising railway security;
(e) authorize the Minister to grant, refuse to grant, suspend or cancel a transportation security clearance;
(f) strengthen the administrative monetary penalty regime; and
(g) require a review of the operation of the Act every five years.
The enactment also amends the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992 to, among other things,
(a) require persons who import, offer for transport, handle or transport dangerous goods to register with the Minister;
(b) provide to the Minister powers relating to the management of safety risks; and
(c) establish an administrative monetary penalty regime.
The enactment also amends the Marine Transportation Security Act to, among other things,
(a) set out the Act’s purpose and allow the Minister of Transport to enter into agreements with organizations in respect of the administration and enforcement of the Act;
(b) set out regulation-making powers that include powers respecting threats and risks to the health of persons involved in the marine transportation system, the sharing of information and the establishment of vessel exclusion zones;
(c) authorize the Minister to make interim orders and give emergency directions and modify the Minister’s power to give directions to vessels; and
(d) create new offences, increase certain penalties and extend the application of certain offences and the administrative monetary penalty regime to vessels.
The enactment also amends the Canada Transportation Act to, among other things,
(a) specify that the Minister may use electronic systems in making decisions or determinations under an Act of Parliament that the Minister administers or enforces and provide that a power of entry into a place under such an Act may be exercised remotely by means of telecommunications; and
(b) reduce the threshold above which the Minister and the Commissioner of Competition must receive notice of proposed transactions relating to a port.
The enactment also amends the Canada Marine Act to, among other things,
(a) set out that port authorities are responsible for management of traffic and create regulatory authorities respecting fees and information and data sharing in respect of that management;
(b) provide the minister with the power to require, by order, the taking of measures to prevent imminent harm to national security, national economic security, or competition; and
(c) require port authorities to establish advisory committees, including an Indigenous advisory committee, require periodic assessments of port authorities’ governance practices and set out new requirements respecting plans and reports relating to climate change.
Finally, it makes a consequential amendment to the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada Act .


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.


Sept. 26, 2023 Passed 2nd reading of Bill C-33, An Act to amend the Customs Act, the Railway Safety Act, the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992, the Marine Transportation Security Act, the Canada Transportation Act and the Canada Marine Act and to make a consequential amendment to another Act
Sept. 26, 2023 Failed 2nd reading of Bill C-33, An Act to amend the Customs Act, the Railway Safety Act, the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992, the Marine Transportation Security Act, the Canada Transportation Act and the Canada Marine Act and to make a consequential amendment to another Act (reasoned amendment)
June 12, 2023 Passed Time allocation for Bill C-33, An Act to amend the Customs Act, the Railway Safety Act, the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992, the Marine Transportation Security Act, the Canada Transportation Act and the Canada Marine Act and to make a consequential amendment to another Act

Strengthening the Port System and Railway Safety in Canada ActGovernment Orders

March 10th, 2023 / 10 a.m.
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Mississauga Centre Ontario


Omar Alghabra LiberalMinister of Transport

moved that Bill C-33, An Act to amend the Customs Act, the Railway Safety Act, the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992, the Marine Transportation Security Act, the Canada Transportation Act and the Canada Marine Act and to make a consequential amendment to another Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, before I begin my remarks, let me just take a moment to pay tribute to our friend and former colleague Marc Garneau, who resigned this week from his seat as a member of Parliament. Marc Garneau was a member of Parliament who served with dignity and pride. He served Canadians throughout his career in various roles. I know he will be deeply missed by his constituents and certainly by his friends and colleagues here in the House of Commons.

Today, I am building on the work that he started when he was the Minister of Transport. I just want to acknowledge and recognize the work he has done. It gives me great pleasure to build on a lot of the excellent work that he did.

The last three years have been extraordinarily hard on Canadians and on global and domestic supply chains. From global inflation to delays for many products, Canadians have been impacted by a global phenomenon experienced by the rest of the world. Global challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic, labour shortages and Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine, as well as extreme weather events, have all contributed to major supply chain disruptions.

Our government remains focused on supporting Canadians during these unprecedented times. Whether it was support during COVID or targeted initiatives to help Canadians weather its lingering impacts, we have been there and we will continue to be there. Our government's priority continues to be making sure that Canadians have access to the goods they need, when they need them, at a reasonable price.

Our government is here for Canadians.

That is why we continue to take action to strengthen our supply chain, which will help reduce cost pressures on the transportation of goods. This in turn will help make life more affordable for Canadians.

One of the many ways we are taking action is with Bill C-33, the strengthening the port system and railway safety in Canada act. Bill C-33 would modernize Canada's transportation system, making it more sustainable, competitive and resilient. Canada's transportation system is the backbone of our economy. Our primary modes of transport, which are marine, air, rail and road, are interdependent, and a disruption in one can impact the entire supply chain.

Our transportation system drives our economy.

That is why Bill C-33 seeks to modernize our ports and secure our railways, because an efficient and reliable supply chain is key to building an economy that works for all Canadians.

In January 2022, I hosted a supply chain summit and created a national supply chain task force. The mandate of the task force was to provide ideas on how we could strengthen our supply chain. Last fall, I shared with Canadians the report from the supply chain task force. It consulted extensively with industry and labour representatives across the country on priority areas for immediate and long-term actions to reduce congestion, improve reliability and increase resilience within Canada's transportation supply chain. It also met with representatives in the United States to understand how we could improve supply chains across our shared borders. The recommendations outlined in the task force report will inform the national supply chain strategy that our government has been working on.

Ensuring our supply chains are strong has always been a top priority for me and for our government. That is why Transport Canada has initiated two separate reviews since we came into government: the ports modernization review and the Railway Safety Act review. With both reviews now complete, we are able to advance concrete and immediate actions to modernize how our ports and railways respond to the evolving demands on our transportation infrastructure.

The bill I am proposing today is a demonstration of the government taking action to directly support two key modes of transportation that connect us domestically and to world markets.

With this bill, we are taking real action.

This modernized framework for port governance, railway safety and security, and the transportation of dangerous goods will be used for decades to come. Through Bill C-33, I am proposing an ambitious set of reforms to the marine transportation system.

This includes significant reforms to the governance of Canada's port authorities and improvements to marine safety and security through changes to the following legislation: the Canada Marine Act, the Canada Transportation Act, the Marine Transportation Security Act and the Customs Act. In a constantly changing world, ports, as key hubs for trade, need a modern framework to better respond to increasingly complex challenges. Bill C-33 would provide them with these tools.

Additionally, I am proposing amendments to the Railway Safety Act to improve the safety and security of Canada's railway system. Resilient railway operations need a modernized legislative framework to maintain safe, secure, efficient and reliable services that not only foster economic growth but also benefit all Canadians. Collectively, these measures would keep our supply chains resilient and competitive.

These measures help our supply chains stay strong.

Finally, our government is proposing changes to the Canada Transportation Act to enhance the overall movement of goods across Canada, and to the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act to enhance and clarify the safe and secure transportation of dangerous goods in Canada.

I will start by focusing on Canada's ports.

The proposal before us today is the result of four years of work and stakeholder engagement. Importantly, it takes into account the many lessons learned from the challenges that have hit our transportation network over the past few years. The changes being advanced are focused on six areas: competitiveness, investment, governance, indigenous and local communities, environmental sustainability, and marine safety and security. This bill proposes to ease congestion in our ports; advance reconciliation and enhance structured, meaningful engagement with indigenous people; act on risks posed by climate change; and promote a resilient system that is safe and secure.

I would like to first focus on the measures that would advance competitiveness.

This bill would increase competition by improving the flow of goods through our ports. This was a key ask from stakeholders, who stressed that collaboration is key to improving fluidity, encouraging investment and expanding port capacity. Additionally, industry-led recommendations from the supply chain task force called for new enabling authorities to facilitate leasing land and transporting containers inland and for regulations and legislation to empower our government to take actions that decongest ports.

To better position our strategic ports and support national supply chain performance, the bill would amend the Canada Marine Act to expand the ability of ports to govern and manage traffic, including marine vessel traffic and anchorage use, which are often a source of concern to coastal communities. In support of this traffic-management mandate, our government would establish information- and data-sharing requirements with ports and port users to improve the efficiency of their operations. We will ensure the shared data are appropriately protected.

This framework would also support the work our government is doing to develop a national supply chain data strategy. This proposed legislation would expand the operational scope of port authorities, enabling them to move operations inland and away from congested urban areas, which would reduce the impacts these operations can have on local communities.

The ability of Canada's port authorities to rise to these new challenges and improve supply chain fluidity is dependent not only on new authorities proposed in this bill, but also on their financial capabilities to invest in infrastructure and take action. The current rules put rigid limits on port borrowing, which ultimately inhibits growth. To facilitate timely and more predictable access to funding, port borrowing limits would be reviewed every three years. These regular reviews would also hold ports accountable to responsible debt repayment to limit financial risk to Canadians.

Proposals in this bill would also improve investment in ports by providing greater clarity and predictability to private investors who have been key to the development of the world-class ports we have today. Specifically, this bill proposes to amend the Canada Transportation Act so that transactions at ports with a value of more than $10 million would be eligible for review by the Minister of Transport. This would ensure these investments meet Canada's competition and national and economic security objectives. This bill would allow our government increased flexibility to act quickly to mitigate security threats to supply chains and further their resiliency during times of emergency.

The recent devastation to rail corridors resulting from flooding on the west coast illustrates the need to have tools to respond when the safety or the security of supply chain operations is under threat. Specifically, this legislation would enable swift intervention in exceptional circumstances caused by disruptive events, such as pandemics, extreme weather and the actions of a hostile state actor. With these new powers, I, as the Minister of Transport, would be enabled to send a notice to the responsible authority and direct measures to be taken to restore supply chain fluidity.

I would now like to focus on measures that seek to update the governance structure of Canada port authorities. These measures would provide ports with the tools necessary to meet current and future challenges.

Let me be clear. The arm's-length nature of ports remains an essential part of their operations and will be maintained. This feature is key to ensuring our ports are seen as credible partners in the global market. However, consultations with stakeholders and local communities identified that the governance structure could more effectively balance national, local, economic and socio-environmental considerations. That is why I am proposing changes that would better frame the relationship between government and ports while enhancing efficiency and transparency and preserving port authority autonomy.

These measures involve providing the Minister of Transport with the ability to designate the chairperson of the board from among the board members and in consultation with the board. This measure would ensure Canadian port authorities and our government are aligned on how we deal with the increasing complex economic, social and environmental issues facing our ports.

Prairie provinces play a crucial role in supporting a competitive Canadian economy, with ports representing the gateway that connects them to the rest of the world. Given the interdependence between the two, the bill would increase the prairie provinces' representation on the boards of the Prince Rupert and Thunder Bay port authorities. This would reflect their growth and importance to the Canadian economy and would mirror similar structured changes previously made to the board of the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority.

In addition, a series of amendments would improve board performance, accountability and transparency.

First, I am proposing to broaden the pool of prospective board candidates by expanding the list of eligible persons to serve as directors. Currently, the exclusion criteria are far too broad and exclude individuals whose employment would not present conflict, impacting the eligibility of highly qualified candidates. This would enable port authority boards to access a wider selection of highly qualified candidates and would further facilitate their success.

Another improvement being proposed through the bill is a requirement for Canada port authorities to undertake a review of governance practices every three years. These reviews would evaluate the effectiveness of board governance practices, such as assessments of conflicts of interest and record-keeping practices. The results of these assessments would be shared with Transport Canada and would inform future policy measures as needed.

Furthermore, legislation would provide the authority to make regulations pertaining to the governance of Canada's port authorities. This authority would enable the government to keep governance requirements up to date, recognizing the importance of working with port authorities, indigenous groups and stakeholders as part of the regulation-making process.

As I have noted, a key challenge to port governance is in aligning their national mandate with local realities. As part of the engagement process, we heard about the importance of a strong relationship between port authorities and local, notably indigenous, communities. Indigenous communities stressed that more could be done to recognize indigenous rights, including increasing efforts to address issues and consider interests raised by indigenous communities.

It is important to work with indigenous peoples.

This bill would create more opportunities for port authorities to work together with indigenous groups and for local communities to improve responsiveness and transparency in port management of economic, environmental and social issues. This change of approach starts with a proposed amendment to the Canada Marine Act that would explicitly provide distinction and recognition for indigenous groups within the legislation, setting the stage for better port-indigenous community engagement.

Building on this, and as a complement to the ability to designate the board chair, and a suite of measures to improve internal port governance, proposed changes would see ports being required in law to establish three new advisory committees: one with indigenous communities, one with local stakeholders and one with local governments. These groups would be designed to structure engagement, enable ongoing dialogue and inform port planning and decision-making.

Indigenous peoples, municipalities, communities and industry groups also stressed that ports should also be leaders in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and building greener infrastructure and operations. Aligning with our government's climate agenda, new reporting requirements in Bill C-33 would have ports better integrate environmental considerations in their planning, specifically in their financial reporting, to better account for and mitigate environmental risks. In addition, our government is proposing important new measures to ensure ports establish targets, monitor progress and publicly disclose the results of their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas pollution and mitigate climate-related risks.

I will now turn my attention to port security.

Our government recognizes that securing our ports is critical, not only to the integrity and competitiveness of our gateways but also for the safety of all Canadians. Bill C-33 proposes significant improvements to enhance the safety and security of the marine sector while strengthening our supply chain. Once in place, this legislation would give Transport Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency the authorities needed to enhance timely screening of containers and to build a more secure and efficient marine transportation system at the same time.

I will speak briefly to what Bill C-33 seeks to strengthen in the safety and security of Canada's railway and movement of dangerous goods regulation. A resilient, fluid rail supply chain must be underpinned by its safety. To maintain our rail sector as one of the safest and strongest in the world, we need to ensure our regulations remain up to date.

There is so much in this bill that would further improve the resiliency and safety of our ports and rail network. I look forward to engaging with my colleagues in this chamber to ensure that we advance this bill. I look forward to my colleague's feedback and questions and to passing this bill.

Strengthening the Port System and Railway Safety in Canada ActGovernment Orders

March 10th, 2023 / 10:20 a.m.
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Dan Muys Conservative Flamborough—Glanbrook, ON

Madam Speaker, I am concerned that there has been a lot of talk and not a lot of action: reviews, reports and strategies. We have heard about all of that. The minister referred to the supply chain task force in his commentary, a report of which he has on his desk for six months. In the introduction of that report it says that Canada's supply chains are at a “breaking point”. That was six months ago. It makes 13 immediate recommendations for action, as well as eight for longer-term action.

Of those immediate actions, how many have been completed, how many does Bill C-33 address, and when will those be completed?

Strengthening the Port System and Railway Safety in Canada ActGovernment Orders

March 10th, 2023 / 10:20 a.m.
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Omar Alghabra Liberal Mississauga Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for highlighting the work that was done by the supply chain task force, which our government established last year. I want to take a moment to thank those members who have put together a thoughtful, meaningful report.

Our government is committed to a lot of the recommendations that are in this report. Some of those recommendations are, in fact, in this bill, Bill C-33. As I mentioned in my speech, there are future action items that will be introduced soon to Canadians.

I want to assure my colleague that, if he supports the conclusions that the task force came up with, he should find a lot of comfort in what Bill C-33 is offering, because it really targets and addresses many of the solutions that the task force had recommended.

Strengthening the Port System and Railway Safety in Canada ActGovernment Orders

March 10th, 2023 / 10:25 a.m.
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Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. minister for his bill and his speech this afternoon.

Recently we heard news out of the United States about a major train derailment in Ohio. The train was carrying toxic chemicals. Not too long ago, there was a train accident in Greece that caused many deaths.

Back home in Quebec, we remember July 6, 2013, when 47 people perished following the derailment of a 72-tanker-car train transporting crude oil. This serves as a reminder of the significance of transporting people and goods.

Does the hon. minister think that Bill C‑33 goes far enough to prevent these types of tragedies in the future?

Strengthening the Port System and Railway Safety in Canada ActGovernment Orders

March 10th, 2023 / 10:25 a.m.
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Omar Alghabra Liberal Mississauga Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, indeed, we all have been following the tragedies that have unfolded in the U.S. and in Greece. In fact, 10 years ago in Canada, we experienced our own tragedy in Lac-Mégantic, when 47 lives were lost because of a tragic rail incident.

Our government has taken action to further strengthen the safety of our rail network. We have already implemented several measures that will enhance the safety of transporting goods via rail. This bill further adds additional measures, including the registry of dangerous goods and including additional authorities to the Minister of Transport, to ensure that we further build on the safety of our rail network.

Strengthening the Port System and Railway Safety in Canada ActGovernment Orders

March 10th, 2023 / 10:25 a.m.
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Taylor Bachrach NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, the government has carved out room on the boards of our ports for municipalities and local governments for obvious reasons. They are important stakeholders in our ports. As well, they have carved out room for the prairie provinces so that shippers of natural resources have a voice when it comes to the operation of the ports that deliver those resources to market. However, we all know that it is the working people at our ports who are so essential to their success.

I wonder if the minister would be willing to expand the representation on our ports to include the working people who are so essential to the function.

Strengthening the Port System and Railway Safety in Canada ActGovernment Orders

March 10th, 2023 / 10:25 a.m.
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Omar Alghabra Liberal Mississauga Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his advocacy.

I want to take a second to express my gratitude to the workers in our ports and in our transportation systems. During the last three years, where we faced unprecedented challenges, the workers in our transportation system stepped up and showed up to work every day. While some of us could work from home, they showed up on the job to make sure that our supply chains continued to move and to be resilient.

I want to assure my hon. colleague that labour and the voices of workers are incredibly important. To make sure that we do things right, in our government, we will always stand up for their rights and continue to listen to their input and to their advice.

Strengthening the Port System and Railway Safety in Canada ActGovernment Orders

March 10th, 2023 / 10:25 a.m.
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Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the hon. minister. I want to acknowledge that he has been working extremely hard on a number of supply chain issues that have an immediate impact on indigenous nations in Saanich—Gulf Islands and throughout the areas of the Salish Sea.

I want to acknowledge that this bill is encouraging to many of us, but I want to ask a question very bluntly. Can there be amendments, and how open will the minister be? The supply chain issue to which I refer, which has the biggest environmental damage on the issues of rail safety and ports, is the placement of freighters, representing free parking to freighters where the Port of Vancouver does not have the capacity to move them through quickly. It causes environmental damage, and it offends indigenous rights in Saanich—Gulf Islands.

Is the minister open to amendments?

Strengthening the Port System and Railway Safety in Canada ActGovernment Orders

March 10th, 2023 / 10:25 a.m.
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Omar Alghabra Liberal Mississauga Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for her kind words.

This bill is an important bill. It would further enhance the resilience and strength of our supply chains, of our ports and the safety of our rail network. This bill does not necessarily cover everything that can be done and needs to be done. This bill is a result of the review that was done over the last few years on rail safety and port modernization.

As we have demonstrated, we are always willing to work with our colleagues in the House of Commons to identify opportunities and to introduce amendments. I look forward to her input, as well as my colleagues' in this chamber.

Strengthening the Port System and Railway Safety in Canada ActGovernment Orders

March 10th, 2023 / 10:30 a.m.
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Winnipeg North Manitoba


Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I want to compliment the minister. On a couple of occasions, he came to Winnipeg and met with long-haul truck drivers. The role that they play in our ports is of an essential nature. There is a great deal of interest by the long-haul truck driver industry in the bill.

I would be very interested in getting the minister's thoughts on the critical role that our long-haul truck drivers play in the supply chain.

Strengthening the Port System and Railway Safety in Canada ActGovernment Orders

March 10th, 2023 / 10:30 a.m.
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Omar Alghabra Liberal Mississauga Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank my friend for his hospitality. I had a chance to visit him in his communities and to visit many truck operators and truck drivers in Winnipeg, in his riding, to express my personal gratitude to them.

Truck drivers have stepped up during an extraordinary period of time and have delivered goods that Canadians depend on. We may not have spent a lot of time, as Canadians, thinking about how goods to get to our shelves or to our kitchen tables, but we knew during the pandemic that we depended on our truck drivers. I know truck drivers take pride in their work and understand how important their work is. Our government is committed to working with them to improve their working conditions and to improve their safety. It is important that we listen to their input and continue to support what they do.

Strengthening the Port System and Railway Safety in Canada ActGovernment Orders

March 10th, 2023 / 10:30 a.m.
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Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Hope, BC

Madam Speaker, my question is regarding the minister taking over the ability to appoint the board chair. It says in the legislation that he would be able to do so after consulting with the board. However, we know that the minister has ignored the recommendations of port users when they have put forward board nominees. He has ignored the recommendations of the prairie provinces when they have put forward nominees.

Given the minister's track record of ignoring the recommendations from the groups that are putting forward nominees for board positions, what is to stop him from ignoring the board, as he has done in the past, and simply making a choice that he wants to do his government's bidding?

Strengthening the Port System and Railway Safety in Canada ActGovernment Orders

March 10th, 2023 / 10:30 a.m.
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Omar Alghabra Liberal Mississauga Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I know my hon. colleague is trying to personalize his question, but let me be very clear. Ports are public institutions. They are there to serve Canadians and the Canadian economy. It is really important that the port mandate is in line with government's expectations and commitments. Therefore, it is important that the board of directors is aligned with government's objectives.

Yes, we need to be careful and sensitive about this and make sure that the ports have the independence they need, but, at the same time, make sure that they maintain their responsibility to the public.

Strengthening the Port System and Railway Safety in Canada ActGovernment Orders

March 10th, 2023 / 10:30 a.m.
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Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Hope, BC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to be a part of this debate today on Bill C-33, which would make amendments to several different acts. Supposedly, based on the press release from the government, this was going to have a profound impact on supply chains and rail safety. Having spoken to dozens of stakeholders over several weeks, they do not see it.

Quite frankly, this is a missed opportunity. This is after four years of government consultation. As the minister said, opportunities do not come along very often to change the way our ports and rail systems operate, and this was a missed opportunity to actually make a difference and improve the supply chain in this country.

The general feedback we received is that this is actually heading in the wrong direction. We heard a lot of stakeholders who said this will do nothing to improve supply chain efficiencies, while others have said it will make them worse. The best the minister received from the feedback I heard is indifference. That is certainly not a ringing endorsement of what has been touted as being a major change to supply chain systems and a major answer to the supply chain problems we have seen plaguing the country for the last number of months and years.

My colleague referenced the national supply chain task force report, which explained the urgency of this situation and proposed several changes that should be made on an immediate basis. We just do not see enough of that urgency. We do not see enough of what was in the supply chain report in this bill. This is the first opportunity the government has had to show it was listening to that report, and we just do not see it.

There is nothing in this bill about rail service reliability or the relationship between shippers and rail companies. In fact, it simply seems to indicate that the status quo is just fine. There is nothing in this bill about what would happen to our supply chains and our international reputation when there are labour disputes that impact the supply chain either at the ports or on our railways. There is nothing here about how we would to reconcile concerns with loading grain in the rain, for instance, in Vancouver. All of these were missed opportunities.

In fact, as the minister indicated a couple of times in his speech, the ports are at arm's length. He just indicated in his answer to my question that, in fact, that arm is getting shorter and shorter. The government is extending its arm into the ports to impose its will on what are supposed to be independent authorities. It is quite shocking to hear the minister openly admit that the problem clearly is that the ports do not do what Ottawa wants enough and that it needs to exert more control over the ports. The ports are supposed to operate in the best interest of the national economy and the best interest of the supply chain, not in the best interest of the government in Ottawa.

Some of our primary concerns revolve around the changes that have been made to the governance system at the ports. The independence of the ports should start with the ability of the board of directors to elect its own chair. That is the current way the system operates. I have certainly not heard that this has been a major issue that has impeded the operation of the ports, but we see an “Ottawa knows best” or “Liberal government knows best” approach when it says the local port boards cannot be trusted to select their own chairs, as they currently do, and that the minister himself needs to make those selections.

I will also note that the port users, the port tenants, the shippers, the grain companies, and so on, have had their influence on the boards diluted. There have been additional board positions given to local representatives. There are two additional board positions, both given to government entities, and no additional seats given to compensate for the people who actually run our ports and get our goods from our farms to the customers overseas.

I think that is an oversight. I also think that the overly prescriptive and bureaucratic red tape nature of imposing a “made in Ottawa” solution on consultation is going to prove very difficult to manage in many of the ports across the country.

Bill C-33 seems designed to be imposed on big ports, like the Port of Vancouver. There are 17 port authorities in Canada and some of them are very small. There are no provisions in the bill to allow for any flexibility for the smaller ports, which may not have indigenous communities in their proximity or which may not have the capacity to set these things up without significant new costs, which will be passed on to port users and to Canadian consumers. These are imposed costs that will be passed along at a time when we are already dealing with record inflation. These are going to be inflationary costs that will impact the costs of the goods that Canadians need.

The Port of Vancouver, for instance, already has robust indigenous consultation, robust community consultation and robust local government involvement. As for creating advisory boards, I have heard some feedback from folks who have maybe one first nation in their entire province. How would they set up an indigenous advisory board to deal with that situation?

As for the Port of Vancouver, in my home province of British Columbia, who would be on this board? It certainly would not just be the handful of first nations that are in the Vancouver area. It would be communities who are up the Fraser River. It would be communities that are along the shipping routes.

Now that it would be an official consultation board mandated by law, there will be questions about who would be on it, who would be part of it and what role they would play. If there is nothing in the legislation that indicates what the role of that board would be or what the powers of that board would be, would they simply give advice that can be ignored? Would they have the power to actually prevent the ports from exercising their authorities? We just do not know.

I think that is what we have heard a lot of in the stakeholder feedback we have received, which is that there are a lot of changes that have been made where the Ministry of Transportation or the minister says, “Oh no, do not worry about it. That is not what we meant when we put those changes in the legislation. We will find a way around it. We did not mean that the minister would appoint the board chair. He would just consult with the ports and then take their advice.”

That is not what the legislation says. I think that this is poorly drafted legislation that leaves an awful lot to interpretation and will actually create greater uncertainty for the ports at a time when they need more certainty.

I want to touch briefly on the active vessel traffic management portion of the legislation.

I think, obviously, that there is some need to give the port the authority to manage vessel traffic within its jurisdiction. I think that there is, again, a lack of certainty about what this will mean. How far out will the ports be given the authority to manage the vessel traffic? Is it just in their jurisdictions? Is it hundreds of kilometres offshore? These are things that need to be clarified.

It also needs to be said that, by focusing solely on the marine vessel side of things and not on the rail side of things, the government has missed an opportunity again. It has not talked about rail service reliability, service levels, ensuring that shippers are well served by the rail sector, or that there needs to be reliable data so that the ships know when products are coming by rail. It seems to be focused entirely on the marine side.

We also have concerns about what the government means by allowing the ports to manage anchorages. In British Columbia, there are significant concerns about what that means. Some want anchorages to be removed from certain areas altogether. Others would like to see the anchorages better regulated, and still others would like to see the efficiency of the ports brought up to a standard such that there would not be the need for so many anchorages.

It has been difficult to deal with this issue in a post-COVID context, because there was such a backlog as a result of supply chain collapses around the world and therefore anchorages that had not been previously used were being used more often. What does it mean that the board would have control over these anchorages? Does it mean they would be able to remove them? Does it mean they could limit the number of days ships can dwell there?

These are all questions that are very concerning to port users if we want to expand the ports. The Port of Vancouver has indicated it wants to expand and is looking to increase capacity. We cannot increase capacity at the port and reduce the ability for vessels to safely anchor to await their turn at the port.

Would we simply remove these anchorages without consultation and without any plan as to what would happen when ships show up and have nowhere to berth or to safely anchor? Are they simply going to circle around burning fuel and wait for their turn to enter the port? That needs some clarity.

Overall, on the rail safety side, we support the clarity on the fact that blockades of rail lines are illegal. I suspect most Canadians would have thought that was already the case. In fact, it already is illegal to cause a disruption to rail service. However, the problem is not with the rules; it is with the enforcement of the rules. I think increasing the clarity is a good thing, but if it does not result in increased enforcement activity, I do not think there will be much of a change on that front.

There are concerns about the increased red tape and regulatory burdens. We want transparency at the ports, but we need it to be reasonable. I think there are concerns about whether the reporting requirements would simply be publishing data that the government already receives or whether they would be imposing a new burden on the ports, which, again, would all be passed down throughout the supply chain and ultimately onto consumers. Would quarterly financial reports, for instance, be a new requirement or would that simply be making public what the government already gets?

I think these are questions that have not been answered. That also needs to be looked at in terms of the environmental reporting. The big ports are already doing this work. Would this be duplicative? Would this simply take the work that is already being done at the ports and put it into a format that is more universal? If we are burdening the ports with more reporting requirements when they are already doing this work, that is ineffective and inefficient and we need to make sure we are not duplicating the work.

We also fundamentally disagree with the government here on what the role of the ports is. The port has to have a national lens on protecting the national supply chain; serving our international markets; and getting the goods of our farmers, shippers and creators to our markets. We heard from the minister here today that the government wants to impose a different set of rules. It wants a different focus for the ports and to increase the local perspective on that. The local residents are absolutely impacted, but the primary focus has to be on delivering goods for Canadians and our customers.

We cannot get into other focuses for the ports. I think the government has done that by making these changes to the board of directors. By making those changes to these advisory boards, it is certainly increasing Ottawa's involvement, as well as local government involvement. It is increasing local interests that I think need to be heard but cannot divert the ports from their primary responsibility, which is to serve the national Canadian economy.

When we hear the minister say that the port boards must align with the government's agenda, that does not sound like arm's-length governance to me but an arm of the government. There are just too many cases in this bill where it is imposing its perspective on the ports. It is imposing its agenda on the ports and doing so in a way that does not consider the different ports. Those in Saguenay, Thunder Bay, St. John's and all over the country have a different reality than the ports of Montreal, Vancouver and Halifax. This is a one-size-fits-all approach that will not improve our supply chain but instead increase the burdens on everyone in the supply chain. Most of all, it will increase the power of Ottawa at the expense of the independence of those port authorities.

We believe the bill should go back to the drawing board. It does not do enough to address supply chain concerns. It imposes too many Ottawa-knows-best solutions and too much of the minister's authority on our ports. It does not do enough to improve the situation. Therefore, we will not be supporting Bill C-33. We think it is a missed opportunity. The governance changes cannot be supported. The additional costs that will be passed on to everyone throughout the supply chain as a result cannot be supported.

After four years, the government should have done much better. We hope it will go back to the drawing board and come back with a bill that will strengthen our supply chain and allow the ports to do the job they are mandated to do. We hope it can do that without the heavy hand of the Ottawa-knows-best approach that, unfortunately, this legislation would impose.

Strengthening the Port System and Railway Safety in Canada ActGovernment Orders

March 10th, 2023 / 10:50 a.m.
See context

Mississauga Centre Ontario


Omar Alghabra LiberalMinister of Transport

Madam Speaker, I have to express my disappointment with my colleague's take on the bill.

I would say that he has said a couple of contradictory things. On the one hand, he said that the ports need to have a national lens. On the other, he opposes introducing representatives of the prairie provinces to the boards of the ports.

On the one hand, he said that the ports need to be at arm's length from the government, which I agree with. However, on the other, his own leader is criticizing the government for policies that, by the way, the ports enacted under the Harper government.

Therefore, he has made several contradictory statements.

I would ask my colleague this: Will he really miss out on this opportunity for us to work together on strengthening the governance of ports? I welcome his ideas for amendments, but it would be prudent to send this bill to committee so that we, as members of Parliament, can work together on advancing the goal that we all agree on, which is making sure that our ports are more efficient and resilient.