Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond to Bill C-34 on behalf of the coalition. It is interesting that the government is introducing the legislation. There are many important issues concerning transportation in the country. This is not one of them. Airline security, the state of Canada's airlines, and commercial transportation at the borders are all far more important to the average Canadian than the housekeeping bill the government has put before us today.
As is frequently heard from all parties in the House, September 11 has changed everything. It has changed the way the world operates. If there is any doubt, particularly from a transportation point of view, I need only point to the events of yesterday when a passenger slit the throat of a Greyhound bus driver in Tennessee. This caused an accident in which six people were killed. It was a tragic event.
Greyhound's response was to immediately shut down its whole U.S. transportation network. That is the kind of response we are seeing when something like this happens. Prior to September 11 it would have been treated as an isolated incident and dealt with by local authorities.
In the wake of September 11 with these kinds of situations happening it is interesting that the Liberal government feels we need to debate a housekeeping bill to create the transportation appeal tribunal of Canada. The purpose of Bill C-34 is to create the transportation appeal tribunal of Canada, an independent quasi-judicial body which would act as a mechanism for administrative and enforcement actions taken under various transportation acts governing the marine, rail and aviation sectors.
The new appeal tribunal would replace the Civil Aviation Tribunal which was established in 1986. The Civil Aviation Tribunal is a functioning body. It has been in existence since 1986. The changes being introduced by the legislation would expand it into a transportation tribunal as opposed to mere aviation tribunal. It would carry out the same basic functions as the Civil Aviation Tribunal but its responsibilities would be expanded to the marine and rail transportation networks.
Reviews of decisions affecting the marine and rail sectors are currently conducted by senior departmental officials and the minister. I think Canadians feel it is wise to move these kinds of reviews to an independent body as is done in the aviation industry. They feel it is better to get these kinds of appeals out of bureaucratic hands. There is no question that would be good.
The real issue with this housekeeping bill is that the Liberal government has had plenty of time during its nine years in office to have made the necessary changes. The aviation tribunal has been around since 1986. Why has the government chosen this time to bring the legislation on to the floor of the House?
It is quite clear that this is not a main concern to many Canadians. We did a computer search of Canada's major newspapers for the last three months. We turned up exactly zero articles that mentioned the Civil Aviation Tribunal or the proposed transportation appeal tribunal. It is not on the agenda of the ordinary Canadian or for that matter any political party. It has not been on anyone's agenda.
As a former member of the transportation committee I can say that the committee never dealt with any issues regarding the tribunal although the processes were mentioned in passing and whatnot. If people and government committees have not been talking about the need for it, why does the government see it as the most important transportation issue for the House to be addressing?
This housekeeping bill concerns the makeup and legislative authority of this new tribunal. The Civil Aviation Tribunal currently consists of a chair, a vice-chair and six other full time members in Ottawa. There are 26 part time members around the country who are supposed to be chosen on their knowledge and experience in aeronautics.
Bill C-34 states that the new tribunal, which would bring in marine and rail component industries, would consist of members who collectively have expertise in transportation sectors in respect of which the federal government has jurisdiction. One has to assume that the makeup would be of individuals who have knowledge of the marine, rail and aviation industries. We do not know how many additional members would be appointed or what the expansion of the budget would be.
Last year the budget of the Civil Aviation Tribunal was $1.2 million. To the ordinary Canadian that may sound like a lot of money, but to a government agency it is a very small amount. Unlike many other government agencies, the tribunal did not use its full budget. It only used $1.12 million.
This is not an issue of a grand haven for patronage appointments. It is not a tribunal that will expand to a size that Canadians should be concerned about. It is a housekeeping issue of changing the parameters of how the tribunal operates to include other modes of transportation outside aviation.
I urge individuals who have concerns about where the tribunal is going, its makeup or its mandate, to contact a transportation critic member or a member of the transportation committee to raise their concerns because it has not been a topic of high interest to people in the transportation industries or to members of the transport committee. To date we have not heard from anybody with concerns.
The coalition will be supporting this housekeeping legislation. We are concerned that this has been considered a priority of the government and has been put on the House agenda before other very important transportation issues. We urge the government to move quickly on the transportation concerns that have been identified as a result of the tragic events of September 11.
The U.S. congress passed legislation for airlines just 10 days after the terrorist attacks. The American senate is holding hearings about its concerns regarding the Canada-U.S. border.
While the U.S. congress is talking about the important issues confronting its country and the world, we are talking about housekeeping changes that could have been done any time in the last nine years.
The coalition's concern is that the greatest failing of the government is not what is in the bill but that the bill is what it feels is its priority on transportation issues.