Evidence of meeting #44 for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in the 44th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was work.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Michael Keenan  Deputy Minister, Department of Transport
Vincent Robitaille  Assistant Deputy Minister, High Frequency Rail, Department of Transport
Nicholas Robinson  Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Safety and Security, Department of Transport
Stephanie Hébert  Assistant Deputy Minister, Programs, Department of Transport

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Peter Schiefke

I call this meeting to order.

Welcome to meeting No. 44 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.

Pursuant to Standing Order 81(5) and the motion adopted by the committee on Monday, November 21, 2022, the committee is meeting to study the Supplementary Estimates (B) 2022-23.

Today’s meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House Order of Thursday, June 23, 2022.

Appearing before us today from 3:30 and 5:30 are the Honourable Omar Alghabra, Minister of Transport, as well as, from the Department of Transport, Michael Keenan, deputy minister; Ryan Pilgrim, chief financial officer and assistant deputy minister, corporate services; Stephanie Hébert, assistant deputy minister, programs; and Nicholas Robinson, associate assistant deputy minister, safety and security.

From 4:30 to 5:30, we will have in addition, from the Department of Transport, Serge Bijimine, assistant deputy minister, policy; and Vincent Robitaille, assistant deputy minister, high-frequency rail.

Minister, on behalf of all of the members, I would like to welcome you to our committee and turn it over to you for your opening remarks.

3:35 p.m.

Mississauga Centre Ontario

Liberal

Omar Alghabra LiberalMinister of Transport

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Good afternoon, colleagues. It's great to be back with you.

Thank you for inviting me here to speak about the supplementary estimates (B) for Transport Canada and other agencies and Crown corporations within the federal transport portfolio.

I am also pleased to introduce the officials who are here with me from Transport Canada: Michael Keenan, deputy minister; Ryan Pilgrim, assistant deputy minister, corporate services, and chief financial officer; Nicholas Robinson, associate assistant deputy minister, safety and security; and Stephanie Hébert, assistant deputy minister, programs.

Mr. Chair, in past appearances before this committee, I’ve talked about how the COVID-19 pandemic, extreme weather events and Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine have caused global supply chain disruptions that affect our supply chain here at home. Our government understands the impact that these challenges can have on Canadians, including the rising costs of living.

I’ve also stressed that the safety and security of the transportation system is my highest priority.

That's why I was pleased to introduce Bill C-33, the Strengthening the Port System and Railway Safety in Canada Act.

It addresses both of these priorities.

Bill C-33 would strengthen our supply chain, make Canada’s transportation system more competitive and ensure that its operations are safe, secure, efficient and reliable. I look forward to seeing the legislation progress, as it would keep essential goods flowing and make life more affordable for all Canadians.

I also recognize the need to keep people moving. You will notice the high-frequency rail project mentioned a number of times in the supplementary estimates for both Transport Canada and VIA Rail.

As outlined in budget 2022, after years of important work, the time has come for some big steps forward for this major project. The high-frequency rail project would see a new, dedicated intercity passenger rail network connecting Toronto, Peterborough, Ottawa, Montreal, Trois-Rivières and Québec City. It would allow for faster, more frequent and more reliable trains with better service to major hubs and new links to communities.

There are funds in the supplementary estimates to support the procurement process and to select a private development partner to co-develop the project with the Government of Canada. A collaborative public-private partnership will help to maximize the project’s benefits for all Canadians.

A new VIA Rail subsidiary will serve as the project delivery office and will serve as the strong public sector counterpart to a private development partner.

The funding would also support important activities like work on the impact assessment process, indigenous consultations, development of socio-economic benefits, municipal and public engagement, access to railway infrastructure and rail safety updates. Funding in the supplementary estimates would also help with work to assess opportunities for improving passenger rail service in southwestern Ontario.

HFR represents a major investment.

The HFR is the biggest investment in passenger rail in Canada in a generation. VIA Rail and its employees will continue to be key partners in this project, and are essential to its success and advancement.

We are also seeking funds in this year's supplementary estimates to improve rail transportation for remote indigenous communities in northern Manitoba. The objective is to maintain safe, reliable, viable and sustainable transportation that meets the specific needs of communities between The Pas and Pukatawagan, supporting social and economic development. Many of these communities are only accessible by rail. They need this service to access economic opportunities and essential goods and services, including health care.

There's also a request in supplementary estimates (B) to support the extension of the oceans protection plan, as outlined in budget 2022.

The Oceans Protection Plan is the largest investment Canada has ever made to protect our oceans and coasts.

The new funding requested would further protect our coastlines and waterways in four critical areas: continuing efforts to deliver a world-leading marine safety system, including improving how Canada responds to marine emergencies; increasing protection for marine species and ecosystems; creating stronger partnerships with indigenous and coastal communities; and strengthening marine research and science.

This work would continue to help safeguard our oceans and coastlines, while enabling supply chain resilience and supporting economic growth. By renewing and expanding the plan, we are committing to build on the progress we have made since its launch in 2016.

Finally, I also want to mention our plan to accelerate the development of light, medium, and heavy-duty zero-emission vehicles, as detailed in budget 2022. This will be implemented through existing grant programming.

Canadians have made it clear. They want clear air, good jobs, and lower costs. By making zero-emission vehicles more affordable, we are helping to reduce pollution, create more well-paying jobs, and build a cleaner world for generations to come.

I am happy to answer any questions you may have.

Thank you.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Peter Schiefke

Thank you for your opening remarks, Minister.

We will begin our line of questioning today with Mr. Strahl, for six minutes.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Hope, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, Minister, for being here today.

In your opening remarks you spoke about the need to keep people moving. Obviously, this summer we saw chaos at our airports, which was, I would say, made worse by COVID-19. As has been described to us here at the committee, we were the first to impose COVID-19 restrictions and the last to relieve them. The airlines certainly saw that with their employees. That uncertainty caused many folks to seek other lines of work.

We saw $54 million spent on the ArriveCAN app, which just caused more delays in our customs halls. The sum of $411 million was spent on COVID-19 airport testing in the last year, while other countries had removed that requirement. Not only was it inefficient, it was also expensive, layering on costs to Canadian taxpayers to create airport chaos. We've seen Pearson airport in Toronto ranked as the fifth worst airport in the world in terms of customer experience.

I note that you have brought together the industries, airports and airlines, etc., to talk about it. At those meetings, did you talk about how you are going to improve the things that are under the control of the federal government, like security lineups and customs hall lineups?

Every airport that was evaluated under this review dealt with those same things. Why did our airports fare so poorly, and what are you doing, without blaming it on the airlines or global factors, to ensure that the things that are under the control of the Government of Canada are not a fiasco again this winter as they were in the summer? I want to hear about CATSA and CBSA.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Omar Alghabra Liberal Mississauga Centre, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

There are so many questions in that question, but I do appreciate the overall theme of your question.

The fact of the matter is that COVID-19 has been an extraordinary period when governments around the world, provincial governments, municipal governments, including our federal government, did whatever we could to protect the health and safety of Canadians. That included some extraordinary measures that had to be put in place to protect the health and safety of Canadians. Indeed, the air sector has suffered significantly because of the pandemic.

The good news is that we're seeing the air sector recover and recover faster than any of us expected, which is great news. Of course, that brought some challenges and optimism.

As you mentioned last week, I hosted a summit that included 50 industry leaders, including CEOs of airports and airlines and heads of CATSA, Nav Canada, CBSA, provincial governments and other governmental agencies, including the Canadian Transportation Agency.

We all agreed that there are some lessons learned from that period. We need to focus on areas of collaboration, including how we can modernize security screening and how we can support the air sector.

Let me close, Mr. Chair, by saying that during that period of COVID, we provided a total package of $11 billion to the sector to help it recover. Now, there are some lessons learned. We are committed, together, to collaborate and work around them, including governmental agencies, so that we can make sure that the unfortunate and unacceptable frustrations that took place last summer never happen again.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Hope, BC

Thank you, Minister.

I'd like to go now to supply chain reliability and predictability, which you talked about. I think they're critical here. We'll have time to discuss whether Bill C-33 actually addresses those things. We'll save that for your next meeting here.

I do want to talk about the global context, and the national supply chain task force addressed this. Any time that the reliability and predictability of our supply chain is threatened, it impacts the Canadian economy; it impacts, for months, the reliability and efficiency of our system. By my count, you have 18 collective agreements expiring on December 31 that are in the transport-federal sphere. Many of them relate to the rail sector.

I haven't seen anything that indicates that the government is taking this seriously. Certainly, in the U.S., we've seen very aggressive actions taken by President Biden and Congress. What are we doing to ensure that our system is reliable as we see all of these labour agreements coming to an end in just a few weeks' time?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Peter Schiefke

Give a 30-second response, please, Minister.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Omar Alghabra Liberal Mississauga Centre, ON

Oh, oh!

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to my colleague for that question.

Look, the supply chain is extremely important. That's why we established a task force. That's why my colleagues and I are working on a comprehensive strategy to build on all the work that has been done so far.

To address exactly your question, we believe strongly that the best way to maintain the resilience of the supply chain is to let the collective bargaining agreement take its course. That is the best way to ensure that both union workers and employers are on the same page, that there's contentment with the outcome.

So far, we've had success. CP found a way to resolve its issues. UPS found a way to resolve its issues. VIA Rail found a way to resolve its issues. We believe that the best way to maintain a reliable supply chain is to enable and support the collective bargaining agreement.

We keep monitoring the situation. We support both sides as they are at the negotiating table by offering mediators, by offering encouragement. Again, ultimately, the collective bargaining agreement is the best way to preserve the resilience of our supply chains.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Peter Schiefke

Thank you very much, Minister.

Next we have Mr. Rogers.

Mr. Rogers, the floor is yours. You have six minutes.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Churence Rogers Liberal Bonavista—Burin—Trinity, NL

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Welcome, Minister, and to the officials here with you today.

When I reviewed your supplementary estimates, of course, the first thing I saw was about Marine Atlantic. Of course, being from Newfoundland and Labrador, I have no choice but to start with that question.

I know some good things are happening with the Marine Atlantic ferry service. For example, in 2024, we have a new ferry that's supposed to arrive. We have a new administration building planned for Port aux Basques. Some good things are happening.

I want you to comment on the proposed new funding for Marine Atlantic. How many capital projects will this support, and how will they help Marine Atlantic deliver on its mandate? Maybe you can give me some examples of that.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Omar Alghabra Liberal Mississauga Centre, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to my colleague, Mr. Rogers, for his question and his advocacy.

He and many of his Newfoundland colleagues keep reminding me—not that I need to be reminded—of the importance of Marine Atlantic. Our government is committed to continuing to work with Marine Atlantic on delivering the service that Canadians and Newfoundlanders expect of it.

Through the supplementary estimates, Marine Atlantic Inc. is seeking access to $4.7 million. It's sourced from funding that lapsed last year and has been brought forward to 2022-23 through a re-profile request. This funding could not be spent last year, due to a variety of projects being delayed by supply chain and scheduling issues.

You asked me about a specific example of what these projects include. They include $1.9 million allocated to shore-based projects, such as the replacement of the Port aux Basques terminal roof, the re-cladding of one of the fuel tanks, repairs to the loading ramp and some security enhancement. There is $1.7 million associated with the required vessel maintenance. There is $1.1 million allocated to the purchase of electric vehicles that were ordered in 2021-22, but will not be delivered until the end of 2022-23.

The funding is required to meet legal obligations of signed contracts and the maintenance required to keep Marine Atlantic's physical infrastructure in working condition. This funding will allow Marine Atlantic to continue to meet its mandate of providing Canadians with the essential service they deserve.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Churence Rogers Liberal Bonavista—Burin—Trinity, NL

Thank you, Minister.

It's great to see you paying so much attention to that service. It's vitally important for our province and for the province of Nova Scotia, of course, as there are connections there.

Minister, can you elaborate on how the new funding for the oceans protection plan will help create partnerships with indigenous groups and coastal communities?

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Omar Alghabra Liberal Mississauga Centre, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and thanks to my colleague.

The oceans protection plan has been a huge success since its introduction in 2016. The Government of Canada is committed to continuing to work meaningfully with first nations, Inuit, Métis and coastal communities in delivering the oceans protection plan and respecting the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.

The funding will advance this work and offer new opportunities for indigenous peoples and coastal communities to have a more meaningful role in emergency response in waterway management; partner in decision-making; and train in marine safety, search and rescue missions, environmental monitoring, and emergency spill response.

Recently, I announced an investment of $50 million to directly support indigenous partnership in the OPP. This will provide much-needed capacity funding to support meaningful participation of indigenous communities and organizations in the oceans protection plan initiative.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Churence Rogers Liberal Bonavista—Burin—Trinity, NL

Thank you, Minister.

I remember being in B.C. about three years ago. We were talking to some of the groups there. They were talking about the importance of that funding for the training program. It's great to see it happening.

Minister, can you provide more details on how the funding in the supplementary estimates will improve how Canada responds to marine emergencies, like you just referenced? Will this be targeted for the west coast specifically or will it help other coastlines and waterways as well?

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Omar Alghabra Liberal Mississauga Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, the oceans protection plan funding will improve how Canada responds to marine emergencies by amending the Canada Shipping Act to enable the proactive management of marine emergencies and to cover more types of pollution, as committed in the budget of 2022. It will help with developing a coordinated national pollution response system, regardless of location or type of goods spilled. It will move forward with a sustainable hazardous and noxious substance preparedness and response framework to address marine pollution in Canada, while ensuring the health and safety of response for personnel and the public. It will also help with augmenting the national aerial surveillance program.

Funding to partners and departments for thee OPP also supports marine emergency response through the purchase of new pollution response vessels, communication tools and equipment, especially for the Arctic; the development of a national network of trained emergency response that includes multiple levels of government, indigenous peoples and coastal communities; scientific enhancement to protect the environment during the cleanup and recovery of a spill; and the growth of the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Again, I'll assure you it is from coast to coast to coast.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Peter Schiefke

Thank you very much, Minister.

Thank you, Mr. Rogers.

Mr. Barsalou-Duval, you have the floor for six minutes.

December 5th, 2022 / 3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Xavier Barsalou-Duval Bloc Pierre-Boucher—Les Patriotes—Verchères, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you for being with us today, Minister. We appreciate your taking the time to appear before the committee to answer our questions.

Of course, you know that in the committee, we do studies and produce reports. We have produced a report on railway safety, one of the recommendations being that the government establish a fund to support feasibility studies on developing and relocating rail lines from urban areas. I wondered whether you were planning to implement that recommendation.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Omar Alghabra Liberal Mississauga Centre, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to my colleague for your question.

I am grateful for the work the committee has done on rail safety. I received the report with great interest and I think we even submitted a response to it. There were a lot of good ideas. We agree with the objectives that you set out, and we are looking at how some if not all of those recommendations can be implemented, or how we can partner with other departments and other governments to ensure that we advance the recommendations the committee had come up with.

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Xavier Barsalou-Duval Bloc Pierre-Boucher—Les Patriotes—Verchères, QC

Thank you for your answer.

In my riding, there are rail lines running through the towns of Boucherville, Verchères, Varennes and Contrecœur from one end to the other. I am going to speak to you about Boucherville, more specifically, which has done a pre-feasibility study of the potential relocation of the rail line. However, they would like to move forward and do a complete feasibility study. Implementing the recommendation made by the committee is very important to them, because they are looking for funding to carry out the study.

First, I would like to know whether you have heard about this project. Second, what kind of support could the federal government provide for moving forward with this?

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Omar Alghabra Liberal Mississauga Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, our government has invested a historic number of dollars in building rail infrastructure around the country, in partnering with provincial governments and municipal governments, and in building public transit including rail. We are always interested in partnering with provincial governments. As you may know, inner city public transit is the jurisdiction of the province.

If the province has an interest in partnering with the federal government, we would be more than willing to look at the application and figure out how we can partner to advance it, but rest assured that we're always looking for projects that will advance public transit, including, certainly, rail transit.

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Xavier Barsalou-Duval Bloc Pierre-Boucher—Les Patriotes—Verchères, QC

In this case, we are really talking about relocating a rail line that is currently managed under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

In fact, the report doesn't talk just about funding studies on the relocation of rail lines; it also talks about funding relocation projects themselves, as the government has committed to doing in connection with the Lac-Mégantic project. In the recommendation, it talked about the possibility of relocating rail lines in other places, after the Lac-Mégantic project is completed, and we are also wondering how eager your government is in connection with that recommendation.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Omar Alghabra Liberal Mississauga Centre, ON

Thank you, Mr. Barsalou-Duval, for pointing out examples of how our federal government is working collaboratively with the Province of Quebec on building rail infrastructure.

You're asking me to pre-emptively give you an answer about a proposal that has not been submitted yet. If there is anything I can do to help with where this application should be going or who should be reviewing it, I would be happy to help. I'm unable to give you pre-emptively the government's decision, but we are more than willing to partner with the Province of Quebec as we have illustrated with Lac-Mégantic and with public transit in Montreal or in other regions of Quebec to do so.

I would be more than willing to sit down with you and to look at the proposal you're referring to.

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Xavier Barsalou-Duval Bloc Pierre-Boucher—Les Patriotes—Verchères, QC

Fair enough.

I would now like to talk about the Air Passenger Protection Regulations.

The consumer associations we have heard from at the committee all said, one after another, that the current system was too complex. When consumers feel they have been treated unfairly and they submit their complaints, the burden of proof lies entirely with them. In addition, they are dependent on the information provided to them by the airline companies, and that makes the situation particularly difficult for them.

Consumer associations are asking that the burden of proof be reversed, so that it would be up to the airline companies be transparent, rather than it being up to consumers to provide all the evidence and do all the work.

Do you think this would be a good approach to adopt for modernizing the Air Passenger Protection Regulations?

4 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Peter Schiefke

A short response, please, Minister.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Omar Alghabra Liberal Mississauga Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, let me say, first of all, that I'm proud we are the first government in Canada's history to put together a set of rules to protect passengers' rights.

I agree that the period of the last two years has stressed the system and caused a lot of destruction. There were a lot of lessons learned. I am more than willing—and we are currently are—to re-examine the regulations and figure out how we can strengthen them and make them more efficient and transparent.