I think we all appreciate the challenge of continuing your work on a difficult day like today, so thank you for having us here.
Thank you for inviting the chamber to take part in your study on Bill C-49. The package of legislative amendments before you affects chamber members of all sizes across our network of 200,000 members.
I'd like to start by commending Mr. Emerson and the review panel for their work on the Canada Transportation Act review report. The report is a comprehensive landmark piece of work. It made important recommendations toward helping to modernize Canada's trade and transportation networks. Bill C-49 touches on some key issues raised by the review.
The lens by which the chamber considers the individual components of Bill C-49 and offers comments is how we see the proposed changes affecting Canadian competitiveness overall. I'll start briefly on the rail side before jumping over to a few remarks on air travel as well.
Canada's historical trend of privatization in rail is a tremendous success story that has resulted in significant private sector investment leading to some of the lowest freight rates and highest levels of service in the world.
To that end, the chamber offers caution about the urge to expand regulation into Canada's supply chains. In a global economy where connectivity has become a key determinant of economic performance, the objective of any transportation system reform should be on continuous improvement to the efficiency of our supply chains. This was a major theme of Mr. Emerson's review.
The network nature of these supply chains, including our rail system, is such that providing a regulated advantage to one customer, one sector, or one part of the network will inevitably take something away from other parts of the network. This is one of the reasons that the last two Canada Transportation Act review panels, in 2001 and again in 2016, recommended against increased interswitching limits and maintaining a system based principally on commercial relationships and market forces.
Specifically, the chamber has concerns about the proposed new long-haul interswitching provisions. I think we should be wary of unintended consequences, including disincentives to investment and reduced productivity. In particular, the economics around remote branch lines serving resource industries is already difficult. LHI could threaten to reduce the income that railways make on these lines, which makes their future even a little more perilous.
Another consequence of long-haul interswitching is allowing U.S. railways to take advantage of Canadian lines without reciprocity. As currently drafted, Bill C-49 includes some geographical exemptions for U.S. access and, at a minimum, those exemptions should be maintained. Without the exemptions, Canada would stand to lose a large amount of rail and port business to the U.S., particularly through Vancouver and Montreal.
Broadly, supply chain competitiveness is better served by having a commercial marketplace that has sufficient provisions in place to protect customers in the event of a dispute. Bill C-49 does include some reasonable amendments to existing dispute resolution mechanisms.
On the issue of level of service decisions from the CTA, the chamber would suggest that the CTA should take into account the impact of decisions on all aspects of a supply chain and not just a single customer in making their decisions.
Moving on, we are supportive of provisions in the bill that will change the framework of the maximum revenue entitlement to remove some of the disincentives that have discouraged the acquisition of new hopper cars. We are also supportive of the measures for supply chain data transparency and some of the additional steps that the government has already taken in this regard.
We also support Bill C-49's provisions on locomotive video and voice recorders, including the proactive use of this data by railway companies. The minister has repeatedly said that his number one priority is safety, and this will help accomplish that.
Last, on rail, the chamber is supportive of increasing the individual share ownership limit for CN from 15% to 25%. This is an issue for fairness compared to other carriers and other modes and is important for accessing the necessary capital for long-term investment for the railway.
Moving on quickly to the air transportation sections of the bill, the chamber is supportive of a new framework for consumer rights. The current complaint-based system is a bit of a mess. It leads to inconsistent application of rules between carriers. A simplification and standardization of those rules is overdue, both for those travelling on the airlines and the airlines themselves. Like all business, our carriers can operate more effectively and efficiently when they have greater certainty of the environment in which they're operating.
As regulations under the framework are developed, we'd recommend that they clearly reflect the fact that airlines are one part of the air transportation system. For instance, security screening delays remain one of the top complaints from air travellers.
The bill also requires more information and data regarding air carrier service. I would offer that increased data requirements should not be limited to our carriers, but specifically include government entities within the network that affect system performance, including CBSA and CATSA.
We are also supportive of the joint venture provisions in the bill and setting up the new approval process for the minister of transport. Moving the authority or creating this new process will allow joint venture decisions to be made with a broader public and economic interest in mind.
We do recommend that some of the joint venture provisions in the bill be amended. Specifically, the allowance of a ministerial review of a joint venture after two years following its approval should be lengthened. The two-year clock begins following the ministerial approval of the joint venture, not from when the joint venture actually commences its operation. Once it's actually off the ground, so to speak, we believe that the two-year time frame will probably not provide sufficient enough time to test the joint venture in the market.
The chamber is also supportive of the CATSA cost-recovery section of this bill, with the major caveat that this is very much a band-aid solution, while the government continues to correct or tries to correct the CATSA funding model. We must look to end the chronic underfunding of CATSA to ensure that air travellers can receive the efficient screening services that they are already paying for on their tickets.
We are also in favour of the foreign ownership provisions for airlines in this bill. The minister has stated that the objective of this change is to help promote more competition and bring down airfares. I would just add that if Canada wants to get serious about lowering airfares, it is time to review the government-imposed costs on ticket prices. This of course includes airport rents, security charges, Nav Canada fees and other taxes, all of which impact the competitiveness of Canadian air travel.
I'll wrap up by commending the minister, his team, and the department for the work they've put into transportation 2030 and Bill C-49, and this committee for all the work that you are doing this week. As the minister said this morning, Bill C-49 is only the first step in a long-term transportation plan and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce looks forward to continuing to work with the government on improving Canada's trade and transportation competitiveness.