Thank you, Madam Chair. I'm delighted to be here. I've been looking forward to this for a long time.
Madam Chair and honourable members, I am pleased to meet with the committee today to talk about Bill C-49, the Transportation Modernization Act.
I would like to thank the committee for studying the bill before the House is scheduled to resume. That is very much appreciated. I know that you've had three very busy days.
A strong transportation system is fundamental to Canada's overall economic performance and competitiveness. This bill, once passed, would make amendments to the Canada Transportation Act and other related legislation that would position our country to capitalize on global opportunities and make improvements to better meet the needs and service expectations of Canadians.
The measures included in Bill C-49 reflect what Canadians told us they expect during the extensive consultations we undertook last year. We held more than 200 meetings and round tables across the country with transportation and trade stakeholders, indigenous groups, provinces and territories, and individual Canadians to hear their views on the future of transportation in Canada. Our work is aimed at creating and facilitating the conditions to achieve long-term success, and this is precisely what this bill proposes to do.
Bill C-49 is an important first step, and I emphasize “first step”, towards delivering on early and concrete measures in support of transportation 2030, which is the strategic plan for the future of transportation in Canada. This bill focuses on our immediate priorities in the air, rail, and marine sectors. It aims to implement a series of measures to promote an integrated transportation system that is safe, secure, green, and innovative, and that will contribute to our economic growth and a cleaner environment, not to mention the well-being of Canadians when they travel.
The concerns of Canadians have been highlighted in recent months with the much-publicized cases of unacceptable treatment of air travellers both in this country and elsewhere. Bill C-49 proposes to mandate the Canadian Transportation Agency to develop, in consultation with Transport Canada, new regulations to enhance Canada's air passenger rights. These new rules would ensure that air passenger rights are clear, consistent, and fair for both travellers and air carriers.
Some examples of issues the new regulations would address include denied boarding in cases of overbooking, delays, or cancellations; lost or damaged baggage; tarmac delays beyond a certain period of time; seating children next to a parent or guardian at no extra cost; and ensuring that carriers develop clear standards for transporting musical instruments. Clear information will be provided to travellers in plain language about carriers' obligations and how to seek compensation and file complaints.
Under this proposed legislation, Canadians and anyone travelling to, from, and within Canada would benefit from a uniform, predictable, and reasonable approach. My objective is to ensure that passengers would have a clear understanding of their rights as air travellers while ensuring that this new approach would not negatively impact access to air services or the cost of travel.
I've been clear that regulations would include provisions whose intent would be that any denied boarding due to overbooking is done voluntarily and that under no circumstances someone be involuntarily removed from an aircraft after they have boarded. As Canadians, we expect that air carriers serving our country treat their passengers with the respect they deserve and that they live up to their commitments.
This bill also proposes that regulations be made to require data from all air service providers to be able to monitor the air traveller experience, including compliance with the proposed air passenger rights.
The legislation also proposes to liberalize international ownership restrictions from 25% to 49% of voting interests for Canadian air carriers, with accompanying safeguards, while retaining the 25% limit for specialty air services.
These safeguards limit a single international investor to hold no more than 25% of the voting interests of a Canadian air carrier, and no combination of foreign air carriers could own more than 25% of a Canadian carrier.
The direct impact of higher levels of international investment would be that Canadian air carriers or companies wishing to create new air services would have access to a wider pool of risk capital. Consequently, that pool of capital, from both international and domestic sources, would allow the Canadian air sector to become more competitive, and would lead to more choices and to lower prices for Canadians.
Another improvement in the bill is that it proposes a new, streamlined and predictable process for the authorization of joint ventures between air carriers, taking into account competition and wider public interest considerations.
In Canada, air carrier joint ventures are currently examined from the perspective of possible harm to competition by the Competition Bureau, under the Competition Act. Unlike in many other countries, notably the United States, Canada's current approach does not allow for the consideration of the wider public interest benefits with respect to specific routes. Furthermore, the bureau's review is not subject to specific timelines.
This raises concerns that the current approach to assessing joint ventures may make Canadian carriers less attractive to global counterparts as joint venture partners and may be limiting the ability of Canadian carriers to engage in this industry trend.
The bill proposes measures that would allow the Minister of Transport to consider and approve air carrier joint ventures, where it is in the public interest, taking into account competition considerations. The minister would work in close consultation with the Commissioner of Competition to ensure that he or she be properly informed regarding any concerns with regard to competition. Air carriers that would choose to have their proposed joint ventures assessed through the new process would be given clear timelines for an expected decision.
Globally, airports are making unprecedented investments in passenger screening to facilitate travel and gain global economic advantages. Canada's largest airports have also expressed an interest in investing in this area, and smaller airports have shown interest in obtaining access to screening services to promote local economic development.
The bill would create a more flexible framework for the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority to provide screening services on a cost-recovery basis, supporting efforts to maintain an aviation system that is both secure and cost-effective.
Bill C-49 also proposes significant enhancements to increase the safety of the rail sector in order to build a safer, more secure rail transportation system that Canadians trust. As you all know, rail safety, as I've said many times, is my number one priority.
The proposed modifications to the Railway Safety Act would mandate the installation of voice and video recorders to strengthen rail safety by providing objective data about crew actions leading up to and during a rail accident or incident. Beyond that, the requirement would also increase opportunities to analyze identified safety concerns to prevent accidents from occurring.
This would not only require companies to install the recorders, but it would also limit how the recorded data could be used, within strict criteria. For instance, the Transportation Safety Board would have access to the recorded data for post-accident investigations. Transport Canada and railway companies would also have access to the data for proactive safety management and for following up on incidents and accidents not investigated by the Transportation Safety Board, but under specific conditions. The specific limits on the use of the data are designed to maximize the safety value of this technology while limiting its potential to infringe on employees' privacy rights.
Canada's freight rail system is critical to our economy. Bill C-49 would strengthen that system by enhancing its transparency, balance, and long-term efficiency. Let me highlight key examples.
Under this bill, shippers could seek reciprocal financial penalties for breaches of their service agreements by the railways. They would have fair access to more timely processes for settling service and rate disputes. More shippers would be eligible for the streamlined final arbitration process in particular. Further, new measures would ensure that the agency offers shippers informal dispute resolution options as well as guidance.
The bill would also introduce a new measure, long-haul interswitching, to give captive shippers across regions and sectors access to an alternative railway. Rates would be set based on comparable traffic, with the agency having discretion in determining comparability. The bill would modernize key grain measures, such as the maximum reserve revenue entitlement, to promote railway investments—and that's a key feature—and ensure that interswitching rates are updated regularly and compensate railways adequately.
Further, Bill C-49 would enhance sector transparency by requiring large railways to report some performance, service, and rate data about their Canadian operations. Transport Canada would have the authority to publicly report rate trends.
With these and other measures of this bill, we are taking important steps to ensure that Canadians have the freight rail system they need now and in the years ahead.
These aren't the only ways that we propose to improve trade to global markets. Bill C-49 would also amend the Coasting Trade Act and the Canada Marine Act to enhance marine transportation and to allow access for marine-related infrastructure funding. Specifically, amendments to the Coasting Trade Act would allow all vessel owners to reposition their owned or leased empty containers between locations in Canada using vessels of any registry. This would support greater logistical flexibility for industry. In addition, modifications to the Canada Marine Act would permit Canada port authorities to access the Canada infrastructure bank for loans and loan guarantees to support investments in key enabling infrastructure.
In conclusion, I believe that this proposed legislation advances important actions that will help to bring Canada's transportation system into the 21st century. Ultimately, we do need a system to meet the demands of today's economy so that we can keep Canada's travellers and cargo moving efficiently and safely. Passage of this bill as soon as possible this fall would represent a critical milestone in achieving tangible improvements to our national transportation system that will benefit Canadians for decades to come.
Thank you for your attention. I now look forward to answering your questions.