Thank you, Madam Chair. It's a pleasure to be here today.
I am Helena Borges, the associate deputy minister of transport. I have been before this committee before, so maybe you'll remember me.
I have with me several colleagues from the department, as well as the Competition Bureau. Alain Langlois is our chief counsel on this file. Brigitte Diogo is our director general of rail safety. I have Marcia Jones, who is our director of rail policy; Sara Wiebe, who is our director general of air policy; and Mark Schaan from ISED.
First, I would echo the chair's thanking you for coming back early and taking the time to study this bill before Parliament resumes. I must say that if you haven't been in Ottawa all summer, this is officially the first week of summer, at least weather-wise, because it has been raining here non-stop. This is actually summer as we'll have it.
Bill C-49, the transportation modernization act, contains proposed legislative changes that would allow the government to move forward in delivering on initial measures as part of transportation 2030, the government's strategic plan for the future of transportation in Canada, which the minister announced last fall. The plan was announced following an extensive consultation process with industry stakeholders, indigenous groups, provincial and territorial governments, and Canadians, which built on the findings and recommendations from the Canada Transportation Act review report. You will hear from Mr. Emerson, who was the chair of that panel, later today. This process allowed us to hear a broad range of views on the future of transportation over the next 20 to 30 years, and how we can ensure that the national transportation system continues to support Canada's international competitiveness, trade, and prosperity.
Bill C-49 promotes transparency, system efficiency and fairness. The bill proposes legislative amendments that would better meet the needs and service expectations of Canadian travellers and shippers, while creating a safer and more innovative transportation network that would better position Canada to capitalize on global opportunities and thrive in a high-performing economy.
Let me highlight the key features of the bill.
I will begin with the air initiatives. Bill C-49 proposes the creation of new regulations to enhance Canada's air passenger rights, ensuring that they are clear, consistent, and fair for both travellers and carriers. The Canadian Transportation Agency would be mandated to develop, in consultation with Transport Canada, these new regulations and would consult Canadians and stakeholders should royal assent be given to this bill.
The overriding objective of this new approach is to ensure that Canadians and anyone travelling to, from, and within Canada understand their rights as air travellers without negatively impacting access to air services and the cost of air travel for Canadians.
Bill C-49 specifies that these regulations would include provisions regarding the following most frequently experienced irritants, some of which you may have heard about: providing passengers with plain language information about carriers' obligations and how to seek compensation or file complaints; setting standards for the treatment of passengers in the case of overbooking, delays, and cancellations, including appropriate compensation for these; standardizing compensation levels for lost or damaged baggage; establishing standards for the treatment of passengers in the case of tarmac delays over a certain period of time; seating children close to a parent or guardian at no extra charge; and requiring carriers to develop standards for transporting musical instruments.
Finally, this bill also proposes that regulations be made for data to be collected in order to be able to monitor the air traveller experience, including air carrier compliance with the proposed passenger rights approach.
The legislation also proposes to liberalize international ownership restrictions from 25% to 49%. To protect the competitiveness of our air sector and support connectivity, this provision is accompanied by associated safeguards.
These safeguards include restrictions that a single international investor would not be able to hold more than 25% of the voting interests of a Canadian air carrier and that no combination of foreign air carriers could own more than 25% of a Canadian carrier.
This policy change would not apply to Canadian specialty air services such as heli-logging, aerial photography or firefighting, which would retain international ownership levels at 25%.
Liberalizing international ownership restrictions means Canadian air carriers—and this includes passenger and cargo transportation service providers—would have access to more investment capital that they can use for innovation and, potentially, further expansion.
This would bring more competition into the Canadian air sector, provide more choice for Canadians, and generate benefits for airports and suppliers, including new jobs.
More competition in the market could in turn reduce the cost of air transportation and open other markets to consumers and shippers in Canada. This could include the creation of new ultra-low cost carriers serving new areas of the Canadian market.
The bill also proposes a new, transparent, and predictable process for the authorization of joint ventures between air carriers, taking into account competition and wider public interest considerations and establishing clear timelines for the rendering of a decision.
Joint ventures are a common practice in the global air transport sector. They enable two or more carriers to coordinate functions on specific routes, including scheduling, pricing, revenue management, marketing and sales.
Whereas currently proposed joint ventures in Canada are solely examined by the Competition Bureau under the Competition Act, and thus focus exclusively on anti-competitive impacts on specific markets for air travel, the proposed new legislation would allow for the consideration of wider public interest benefits.
In addition, the new process would include clear timelines for the review process, both for the review of potential competition considerations by the bureau and the assessment of public interest benefits to be undertaken by Transport Canada. It is anticipated that this more holistic and timely review would allow Canadian carriers to engage in this industry trend, which confers benefits not only to the partnering air carriers, but also to consumers who will gain from enhanced flight connectivity and Canadian tourism, which we expect to grow based on expanded network options.
Canada's aviation sector has shown interest in investing in and accessing passenger screening services, beyond those already provided by the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, in order to facilitate travel and gain economic advantages.
The proposed amendments allow for this opportunity on a cost-recovery basis.
Let me now move to the rail initiatives.
A reliable freight rail network is critical to Canada's success as a trading nation. Many of our commodities, from minerals to forest products to grain, depend on rail to move to markets both here and abroad. Canada enjoys efficient rail service with the world's lowest rates.
To sustain this, Bill C-49 aims to address pressures in the system so that it can continue to meet the needs of users and the economy over the long term. To this end, the bill promotes transparency, efficiency and strong private sector investment in the rail system, as well as accessible shipper remedies. The key measures include new data reporting requirements for railways on rates, service, and performance that would greatly increase system transparency; a definition of adequate and suitable rail service affirming that railways should provide shippers with the highest level of service they reasonably can in the circumstances; the ability for shippers to seek reciprocal financial penalties for breaches of their service agreements with railways; updated remedies for rate and service complaints, to make them easier for shippers to access; and more timely, long-haul interswitching, a new measure for giving captive shippers across all sectors and regions the option of accessing a competing railway.
These measures would address the needs of shippers for greater competition in the freight rail system while also safeguarding the ability of railways to make crucial investments in the railway network, which benefits all shippers and the broader economy.
The proposed amendments to the Railway Safety Act to mandate installation of voice and video recorders in railway locomotives are designed to further enhance rail safety while safeguarding the privacy of employees. They respond to recommendations from this committee, the CTA review panel, and the Transportation Safety Board, whom you will hear from immediately afterwards.
These recorders would further strengthen rail safety by providing objective data about crew actions leading up to, and during, a rail accident. This technology would also provide companies with an additional safety tool for analyzing trends identified through their safety management systems with the objective of preventing accidents before they happen.
Through its oversight role, Transport Canada would ensure that companies comply with the limits on use and privacy requirements specified in the proposed legislation.
I will now turn to marine initiatives.
Finally, Bill C-49 proposes to amend the Coasting Trade Act to allow all vessel owners to reposition their owned or leased empty containers between locations in Canada using vessels of any registry. This measure would support industry's request for greater logistical flexibility and address the shortage of empty containers for export purposes.
Bill C-49 also proposes to amend the Canada Marine Act to allow Canada Port Authorities access to loans and loan guarantees from the Canada Infrastructure Bank, which is starting to happen.
In conclusion, this bill combines proposed legislative initiatives into a single bill that are essential to advancing priority measures related to improving the efficiency and safety of the Canadian transportation system.
In addition to having undertaken a comprehensive consultation process, these proposed amendments are based on solid evidence. For instance, with respect to freight rail measures, we sought technical expertise of stakeholders from the rail sector, the Canadian Transportation Agency, key federal departments, and other authorities as part of consultations for the bill. We analyzed freight rates, investments across jurisdictions, as well as commodity movements across Canada using internal data, and grain monitoring program, and railway waybill data, as well as other data.
The measures contained in this bill are a reflection of the priorities we heard from stakeholders and Canadians during the consultation process. It brings forward proposed legislative changes that promote a safer, more efficient transportation system that would enable growth while strengthening the rights of Canadian travellers to better meet their needs and expectations.
I would add that this bill responds to many of the recommendations this committee put forward in a study last year of the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act.
I would like to thank the committee once again for having me here today. My colleagues and I are available to answer any questions at this meeting and throughout the entire study of the bill. We would be happy to provide any information that you don't have.
On that point, I will mention that we have made available to the committee a series of issue papers and fact sheets that may help you in understanding some of the provisions and the history behind some of the issues that we're dealing with here, the frequently asked questions on some of the items, because we know that there may be confusion amongst stakeholders about what these mean and how they would apply, as well, of course, the clause-by-clause. If there's anything more we can provide, we'd be happy to do so.
Thank you, Madam Chair.