House of Commons Hansard #159 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was transport.


Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member indicated, the link between Cape Breton and Newfoundland is essential. There has been much in the news in recent months with regard to the ferry service.

We recognize, not just as Cape Bretoners but as maritimers and Canadians, that the link is essential. It is a continuation of the Trans-Canada Highway and is certainly a provision under the terms of Confederation for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

I see a commitment by the government to ensure that this service is not only continued but enhanced. Deliberations have taken place over the last number of months and a study has been put forward. We recognize that this service could be further enhanced.

We look at such things as the drop trailer service that is utilized by so many of the truckers and those who bring goods on and off the island, which certainly is essential to the people of that area. We feel that if investment is made, we can improve and enhance that service.

Investments must be made and there is a commitment on the part of the government. Some of the recommendations that came out of the recent study looked at additional investment in terminal service, in docking service and wharfage. Those are all key to providing the top level of service that can be had, so that ferries can run on time, efficiently, and in a manner that is cost effective to all involved.

I will certainly continue to work on this file. My colleague, the member for Sydney—Victoria, has put a lot of work in on this file. My caucus colleagues from Newfoundland and Labrador will continue to support this initiative. We know it is important that Marine Atlantic is healthy, efficient, effective, and provides the service that is much needed between Cape Breton and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


Réal Lapierre Bloc Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is a bill which I feel I have to be more vigilant about, because it concerns me. I am the member of Parliament for a riding where rail transport issues are very important, and my constituents are really anxious for certain irritants to be resolved.

When I read Bill C-44, I can see that the government is trying to substantially improve the legislation. We must recognize that there is a lot of room for improvement at present. If passed, this bill will amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act. It will also enact the VIA Rail Canada Act and make amendments to other acts directly affected by the new provisions we are about to vote on to ensure that the efforts put into this will not be thwarted by any contradictions.

In principle, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of Bill C-44. Without overlooking the legislation as a whole, my remarks will focus mainly on rail transport because, as I indicated, this is an issue that is very important to the riding of Lévis—Bellechasse.

There are three major rail transport issues in my riding, including the riding's largest city, Lévis. Needless to say that the infamous engine whistle is extremely disruptive, especially in the middle of the night. In the daytime, it is bearable, but at night, it often lasts longer than necessary and is even less desirable.

In my humble opinion, the legislation should encourage railway companies to leave the 19th and 20th century behind and resolutely move into the 21st century. There are now alternatives to whistling to announce an incoming train and make railway crossings safe. What once was necessary no longer is, especially since the population in urban centres has grown tremendously and railway traffic has increased outrageously in frequency.

In this era where stress is becoming the norm, the impact of sleep disruption, among other problems, should not be underestimated. This is also the era of job performance. How can we balance one against the other?

The second problem in my region, as in many other regions in Quebec and in Canada, is the yard. It is a pain, a real headache for the urban planners and the citizens of a city built around or near the station, as is often the case in North America.

Fortunately, the new act will give the Canadian Transportation Agency the power to examine complaints about noise. The agency could, for example, require the railways to take measures to reduce as much as possible the harmful effects of noise during the construction of a railway or, what interests me even more, during its operation.

By taking the operational and service needs of the railway companies and the interests of the affected communities into account, we are definitely going in the right direction to find a solution to the disputes related to the operation of a yard.

I am therefore pleased to see that clause 32 of the bill gives the Canadian Transportation Agency the power to examine complaints about noise and to require the railways to take measures to reduce as much as possible the harmful effects of noise. And God knows how much noise there is. I am especially happy that the criterion of minimal damage caused by the operation of a railway, the old section 95, is found in Bill C-44, giving the agency a real power that it did not have, contrary to what many believed.

Clause 32 confers upon the Transportation Agency the jurisdiction to settle disputes. Thus, the need to allow rail companies to do business and the right of people living along rail routes to peaceful enjoyment will be placed on equivalent levels. The agency will be able to require rail companies to take steps to limit the noise related to their activities. Financial imperatives will be taken into consideration, but will no longer necessarily take precedence.

Orders by the agency will be enforceable in the same manner as an order from a superior court, so people will need to proceed with caution. Non-compliance will lead to charges of contempt of court and the possibility of a prison sentence.

I myself feel that the provision on excessive noise ought perhaps to have been more extensive. It does not, for instance, allow restriction of other nuisances, although that would not be very complicated to do now. Like my Bloc colleagues, I feel that the Transportation Agency has the necessary legislative framework to be given jurisdiction over other types of nuisances such as vibrations. This would, among other things, be useful as far as oil and gas emissions are concerned, which are not covered by this proposed legislation.

It does not take a lot of imagination to understand how disagreeable those two substances can be when there is an unfortunate spill. We find our hands tied, because there are no provisions for helping people who are victims of such spills, nor to oblige prompt action by those responsible and, and more importantly, preventive measures.

This bill does not really have any teeth in it as far as operators are concerned in numerous negative situations.

This leads me to the third problem in my riding, which will clarify my previous criticism, I hope.

In order to facilitate the shipping of liquid cargoes to Montreal, a kind of semi-circular route had to be set up. One section travelled runs right through a marshy area, which makes daily operations even more vulnerable. There have been three derailments in recent years, and harmful substances have been spilled. Hon. members can well imagine the results. Will the agency have the power to force operators of a rail line to ensure that anyone using the rail service can do so without the risk of constant derailments and the hazards and inconveniences they entail?

There is more to environmental protection than air quality. Soil pollution, in this case, or in similar cases, is dramatic because there is always a risk of groundwater contamination. And this is only one problem that must imperatively be prevented in the future.

This is not the only inconvenience that we have with the bypass. The train has to go further and make a loop in order to come back in the other direction. This involves grade crossings and, thus, mandatory stops when the train uses this route.

In one area, vehicles may have to stop twice to let the same train pass. Worse than that, they may be stuck in the loop for many minutes, depending on the length of the train.

What do we do in an emergency? What do we do for ambulances carrying a very ill patient that remain stuck inside the loop? What do we do for firefighters responding to a fire alarm? What do we do for the police? We have to wait for the train to pass. This is a problem that I would have like to see resolved through this bill, to ensure that this never happens again. It seems to me that people's safety should be a priority.

To add to my previous statements, I hoped that the bill would be more binding on VIA Rail and give it a better legislative framework. This is a Canada-wide public utility and, consequently, it should be under more scrutiny, while maintaining some autonomy.

Upon its creation in 1997, VIA Rail was incorporated under the Canada Business Corporations Act. Today, clause 74 of Bill C-44 enacts the VIA Rail Canada Act. The constating documents of the Crown corporation are changed and its mandate is defined. This mandate is to manage and provide a safe and efficient passenger rail service in Canada. At least, this is what clause 8 of the proposed act says. As a whole, the rights and obligations of VIA Rail are maintained, but, under clause 7, the Minister of Transport is the appropriate minister in relation to the corporation.

The head office continues to be in Montreal. I am concerned about the fact that the governor in council can change that simply by order. This does not seem very democratic or very respectful to me. Let us hope that this situation never comes up.

On another matter, the fact that VIA Rail is not subject to the Access to Information Act is not the best idea. Although some commercial regulations may need protection, that is not a compelling enough argument to exclude this company from accountability in all other areas having to do with information.

At least the new VIA Rail legislation, because of its flexibility, will provide greater autonomy to make more appropriate decisions, which should make the administrators' task easier as it gives them a better framework. We made a wise decision in maintaining VIA Rail's rights and obligations; instead of a break with the past, we are ensuring continuity.

For these reasons that I have just outlined to my colleagues in the House, I will support the principle of separate legislation for VIA Rail.

Air transportation is not my chosen field, but I will give my opinion on it nonetheless. I am glad that marketing is heading toward being more truthful and accurate. Airlines will have to change their advertising methods and that will be for the best, I am sure. By requiring these companies to list the full fare including all related fees from now on, air travellers will be better able to assess the real cost, which can only be beneficial to everyone involved, including the carriers.

In the event of a problem, the transportation agency can require a carrier to take the necessary measures to compensate those affected when sales or transportation conditions are not respected. This a step forward since the commissioner could only make suggestions before.

Unfortunately, the transportation agency, which gained more authority when the complaints commissioner position was cut, will no longer be required to submit an annual report on the complaints or how they were resolved. On the downside, life will be easier for those in the wrong because it will become more difficult to address their lapses. Let us hope to find a corrective measure for this.

The commissioner had the authority to require a lot of information from the carriers when complaints were lodged against them. The transportation agency does not have as much latitude.

So, I wonder whether it is a good thing that the public no longer has access to a commissioner.

Perhaps we could have transferred all the powers of the commissioner to the Canadian Transportation Agency. We will see where this will take us.

Once again, the interests of transparency, to which we refer so readily, are still not protected in the proposed legislation. This is why I deplore this weakening of the role of the Canadian Transportation Agency in terms of its power to investigate and its visibility.

I want to talk about one last negative aspect of the bill. The regulations on international bridges and tunnels are almost dangerous. The government is being given quasi police powers that are simply unacceptable. There is no other way to qualify a power to investigate without a warrant. And what about such an authoritarian power of seizure?

As regards the protection of the environment, the bill proposes to review the transportation policy so as to bring it closer to the objectives of the Kyoto protocol. Indeed, by contributing to the promotion of railway transportation, we aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which is something that all taxpayers will appreciate. If, in addition to that, we manage to reduce noise pollution, we will have made very significant progress.

I want to stress another positive aspect. I am referring to the provision which provides that, if a company wants to dispose of a railway line, it must first offer it to those in charge of transportation services in the cities concerned, particularly municipalities.

These changes would allow public transit companies to receive such offers. Some urban sectors that provide services to several municipalities would undoubtedly be very pleased at such opportunities. They would be able to get these corridors and use them for public transit purposes. This would be a judicious use of these abandoned railways.

If this is approved, it will probably help avoid many misunderstandings, problems and criticisms, while also saving time, work and energy.

For all these reasons, I will support the bill, even though I think that there is still room for a lot of improvement and that it would have been better to make these improvements before going further ahead.

For example, the minister could take the opportunity provided by the new VIA Rail Canada Act to promote transparency and accountability for this crown corporation, particularly as regards the appointment of its board of directors and its advertising which, unfortunately, is often confused with propaganda.

I must say that, as someone living in the heart of Lévis, I would love it if we could silence the train's whistle once and for all.

Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like first of all to congratulate my colleague from Lévis—Bellechasse for his excellent speech. Just like me, he comes from the municipal arena. I would like to make something clear for the men and women who are listening to us. My colleague will certainly recognize like me that it is impossible for municipalities to apply the same regulations regarding noise that they apply elsewhere on their territory. Those who live near railways or railway yards have a hard time understanding that.

One must understand that municipal regulations do not take precedence over federal laws. Thus, since railway transportation is a federal jurisdiction, any regulation which a municipality might adopt to try to restrict the noise is automatically inapplicable on federal territory. Obviously, the bill does not go as far as applying the municipal standards. This has been requested for a long time by municipalities, who would like the federal government to understand one day that there is a need to discipline the industry. This is where the problem lies.

During the last session, I had the opportunity to be transport critic. I now have the infrastructures and communities file. Among other things, I visited communities located near the Charny yard, in my colleague's riding, and near the Moreau yard, in the riding of my colleague from Hochelaga. When we meet those people, we hear their distress. Technology has changed. Engines and cars are no longer being linked to each other by human beings. Everything is done mechanically and electronically. And believe me—I have heard it for myself—it does not decrease the noise. To make sure that the linking—which is done mechanically and electronically—is done properly, more force has to be used. Consequently, there is more noise.

I would like to ask my colleague to tell the House a little bit about the impact of this new technology on communities. I would also like him to say a few words about the municipalities not being able to apply their own standards to restrict noise, even though they would simply like to apply the same standards as with other industries. They cannot do it in the case of railway transportation because federal laws take precedence over municipal regulations and provincial laws. Municipalities cannot enforce their regulations about noise.

Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


Réal Lapierre Bloc Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I want to thank my colleague for his question. I know that he visited some sites, including the Charny railroad yard. I also know that that yard is in the heart of a residential development. The problem has become really alarming for people who live in the immediate vicinity of that yard.

Furthermore, I know that the railway that goes through the heart of the city is also a problem. At any time of night we can hear the train whistle, whose sole aim is to wake everybody up. Even though people have been pushing for action, nothing ever changes. I had hoped that the bill would alleviate the problems.

I am also perfectly aware that we cannot enforce existing regulations in cities and towns and that the federal legislation takes precedence. But the fact is that we remain stuck with the problems. What is more upsetting is that, in my riding, the railway makes a loop that comes very close to a village to facilitate delivery of a liquid product in Montreal. At any time of day or night, we hear whistles—more like non-stop whistling—because the number of trains is constantly increasing.

In conclusion I will say that, despite its positive elements, the bill does nothing to alleviate the noise problem. There is practically nothing in it other than a complaints processing mechanism to guarantee that the complaints are heard. I do not think that this bill will satisfy the people who have been complaining for a number of years now.

Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, National Defence.

Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.


Beth Phinney Liberal Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, this may be my last chance to speak in the House as I will be retiring on election day. I guess my comments are directed toward the transport bill because I have been fortunate to use Air Canada and other airlines in Canada to travel to and from my riding.

I would like to thank the people of Hamilton Mountain, my constituency, for allowing me to represent them for 17 years. It certainly has been a privilege.

I would like to thank everybody who helped me get elected and has helped to keep me elected. We cannot do it on our own. They have helped me accomplish my work in the riding and across the country. Sometimes it is with a phone call or a letter, or sometimes it is with a cup of tea. However, it is those people who keep reminding us and phoning us, and saying we are not doing this or we are not doing that, or could we do this who keep us on the ball and ensure that we are doing our job right.

I would also like to thank my colleagues in the House, the staff in the House of Commons and the staff I have had over the years for their support. I am doing this just in case. I have tried over the years to thank everybody who has helped, but I always miss out on somebody. So I am hoping that I can cover everything now.

Finally, I would like to thank my family and friends who, as we all know, get neglected during this period of time. There can be months and years that we do not speak to our friends or have time to spend with them. So now I will have some time to spend with them and I will be very happy to do that again.

It has been a great privilege to work here on behalf of my riding and on behalf of Canadians. Again, I thank everybody who has had anything to do with making my time here on the Hill more pleasant.

Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.


Réal Lapierre Bloc Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I did not hear a question in what the member across the way said. However, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the hon. member for her dedication and for the work she has done for her country. I am sure that most members, if not all, will say that she has devoted heart and soul to this. I wish her the best retirement which I hope will be much more quiet than what she has been used to until today.

Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Marc Boulianne Bloc Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to wish a good retirement to my colleague across the way, and to congratulate my colleague, the hon. member for Lévis—Bellechasse, for his speech.

Of course, when the subject is rail transport, we talk about noise, profitability and economy.

In our region, Chaudières-Appalaches, as in that of the hon. member for Lévis—Bellechasse, the Quebec Central is part of the rail heritage. This line was ceded by Canadian Pacific and taken over by a salvage committee created in the area to prevent its dismantling. A promoter, Mr. Giguère, with the help of several other individuals, took charge of the Quebec Central. It was an excellent initiative. It was at the time of the CFIL initiative, creating regional short lines to transport tourists as well as goods from Saint-Romuald to Sherbrooke, through the regions of Beauce, Chaudière-Appalaches, Mégantic—L'Érable and Thetford Mines. This is a significant and sustainable economic activity.

Here is my question. Can my colleague confirm that it makes sense that the responsibility for certain rail lines, such as Quebec Central, for example, be entrusted to cities and towns for the transport of citizens, tourists and goods?

Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Réal Lapierre Bloc Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank my colleague for his brilliant comment.

I too have followed the events surrounding the Québec Central train. The stakeholders have discovered that such a projet could still have an economic value. The efforts made allowed the export of a good number of finished products to the American side. We can therefore only rejoice to see such an initiative, just like the Kyoto agreements.

Because we live by the St. Lawrence River, we hope that cabotage will one day be allowed again, particularly for raw materials.

Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in the debate on Bill C-44. We fully believed that the government wanted nothing to do with this bill. I know that the member for Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher has worked hard to ensure that there would be a debate on this bill.

I am not saying that this bill is perfect; we do, in fact, have concerns in some respects. However, it contains provisions— especially section 32, which I will talk about in greater detail—that increase the powers of the Canadian Transportation Agency to mediate complaints in communities with railway lines. Obviously, every member of the House, both on the government and the opposition benches, knows that Canadian Pacific or CP has engaged in extremely delinquent behaviour. It has even been a rail rat, a locomotive low life and, quite often, behaved like a city within the city. This is certainly true in a city such as Montreal.

The bill should have gone further, as the Canadian Federation of Municipalities said, because the scope of section 32 is not clear. It is being compared to a superior court order, but when we read the wording, it is unclear that this is not just mediation.

That said, before I talk about the substance of the bill, I want to make some comments about the current political situation.

Obviously, the House is humming with energy. It is clear that the government is about to fall and that we are writing a page in the history of this Parliament by allowing, finally, our constituents to get their bearings with regard to the Gomery report, all 455 pages of which I just finished reading this morning. Clearly, the most important of the 17 chapters is the last one, about assigning responsibility. It is interesting to see that Justice Gomery is able to clearly identify the centres of responsibility. Treasury Board and other departments had completely abdicated their responsibilities, which was to ensure the proper administration of public funds. The extreme disrespect for Quebec referendum legislation is obvious.

Indeed, we must remember that the creation of the Gomery commission was rooted in a cabinet decision made in 1996. During a retreat, on February 1 and 2, 1996, the federal cabinet decided to authorize a vast visibility plan for Canada. This grand plan came as a reaction of the government to the 1995 referendum, where the yes and no sides were each allowed 50¢ per elector. Therefore, there was a possibility, based on the equality of opportunity principle, to promote, on the one hand, the possibility for Quebec becoming sovereign, as 147 countries in the world have done, or, on the other hand, Quebec remaining part of the Canadian federation.

What is disturbing, and that is the meaning of the next election, is that a government chose not to respect a democratic referendum. A government chose not to respect the rule of law.

In the 455 pages of the report, we can easily see that Coffin, Brault, Lafleur Communications, and actually all five agencies that Public Works and Government Services Canada had hired, made generous contributions to the Liberal Party, with obvious contempt for the political party financing legislation.

That said, I do not want to stray too far from the bill before us. I am well aware that it deals with transportation. However, before getting to the main point, that is Bill C-44, I also wish to congratulate all members, on both sides of the House, who have served their fellow Canadians and who might be in this House only for a few more hours before going on to another career. In particular, that is the case of the member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain who will be leaving public life.

Liberal colleagues have told me that some thirty of them could be leaving public life. I imagine that it has nothing to do with the difficult situation the party currently finds itself in, but rather a perfectly reasonable and legitimate desire to do something else in life.

I am convinced, however, that they will have positive memories of their colleagues and the Bloc Québécois, which has remained a party of balance between the desire and interests of the government and of the people of Quebec. The Bloc Québécois has always been on top of what could be done here in this House under the standing orders in order to advance matters affecting the interests of Quebeckers.

Madam Speaker, I believe that this is also your last day in the House, since you have announced you are not going to seek another term.

In my riding of Hochelaga, there is a marshalling yard. This is not surprising, since Hochelaga—Maisonneuve was one of the first neighbourhoods in Montreal to be industrialized. Obviously in the 18th century and 19th century, where industrialization was involved, the ability to link people and to move goods near an industrial centre was an extremely important consideration for businesses when they located.

Hochelaga—Maisonneuve was a city between 1888 and 1918, when it joined Montreal. It was in fact the first city in eastern Montreal to have a francophone industrial middle class. The Dufresne family, for example, held positions on the city council.

Anyone visiting Hochelaga—Maisonneuve can admire its rich heritage in the Centre culturel et sportif de l'Est, an art deco piece today housing an organization of the same name providing cultural and recreational services. The château Dufresne was, for a long time, the only middle class home open to the people of Montreal, where Marius Dufresne once resided. More recently, singer Diane Dufresne, of whom I am a fan and with whom I had the pleasure of having my picture taken—she is in a way Quebec's prima donna—presented an exhibition of photographs. This château is witness to the past prosperity of Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, which was once an extremely prosperous middle class city.

Still, industrialization and railways go hand in hand. It is rather distressing to note that, in a residential neighbourhood like Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, at the heart of my neighbourhood, a railway ran along Ontario Street. This was not unusual. It was a time when people thought that economic and residential development should co-exist.

Today, of course, when we think about urban development and municipalities adopting a development plan, we would not tolerate, in the middle of our neighbourhood and in residential areas, nuisance factors such as a railway.

However, in the 18th and 19th centuries until the second world war, people wanted to have economic development close to residential development. A whole generation of labourers worked as railway employees in Hochelaga—Maisonneuve. I was pleased that the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel came to meet me with my constituents.

About a year and a half ago, he left his riding on a Thursday night to come and meet my constituents. I created an antinoise committee. People living on Davidson and Darling streets as well as those living in the western and the northern parts of my riding, near the railway tracks, got together to make representations to ensure that measures would be taken to reduce the impact of railways.

What are these nuisance factors? First, the fact is that railways may be operating 24 hours a day. People wonder how it is that we can tolerate, in a city such as Montreal, in 2005, soon in 2006, a railway that can be operating 24 hours a day. Since this is the case, it means that there is noise associated with the operation of this railway. The noise comes from two sources. Of course, there is the stopping of engines, of locomotives, but there is also noise when locomotives are joined together. You can appreciate that this causes a lot of noise.

There are people who have been living for 10, 15 or 20 years near this railway and who are wondering what that government will do. This is why the member for Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher was well-advised to pressure the Minister of Transportation, the member for Outremont. This is, by the way, a riding which the Bloc Quebecois will not hesitate to conquer in the next election, thanks to our candidate of great ability, Mr. Jacques Léonard, president of the Quebec treasury board under René Lévesque. He is a progressive social democrat eager to defend any cause which has to do with the fight against poverty.

The Minister of Transportation has therefore waited too long before bringing in his bill. We were wondering what was happening. This is a bill which my colleague, our transportation critic, would have liked to improve in committee. Nonetheless, one of its provisions has given a little bit of hope to our citizens.

First, one must remember that, for many years, the Canadian Transportation Agency behaved just as if it had the authority to make orders and to act as a mediator, something which has just been granted to it through Bill C-44. A legal challenge has been taken to federal court. If I am not mistaken, I believe that the case was even heard by the Federal Court of Appeal. This court decided that, unfortunately, the authority of the Canadian Transportation Agency did not allow it to make orders and to go as far as it went in the past. This is why the Minister of Transportation should remedy to that situation and establish clearly, in a bill, that it is indeed possible for the Canadian Transportation Agency to act as an arbitrator.

As I said, the CPR and the CN, the major railway companies, have been behaving like low lives in the city. They were under the impression that, in the name of prosperity and economic development, they did not have to account to anyone. It has taken every ounce of persuasion and kindness which I am known for to convince the CN and the CPR to participate in the noise control committee I had set up. These companies were behaving like railway low lives, like railroad delinquents, not accounting to anyone. That is why clause 32 of the bill is giving some hope to our fellow citizens.

What is not clear to me is to what extent clause 32 really allows orders to be made. I will read the clause for the benefit of those listening. It states:

When constructing or operating a railway, a railway company must not cause unreasonable noise, taking into account—

I can already see a problem with the phrase “not cause unreasonable noise”, as it refers to the legal test of reasonableness. What does “not cause unreasonable noise” mean? For example, is it unreasonable to couple two engines at 3 p.m.? Is it unreasonable to let a train idle for 40 minutes between midnight and 0:40 a.m., with the noise this involves?

I hope that the Canadian Transportation Agency will issue guidelines, as provided for by the legislation, to define what is unreasonable when it comes to major national carriers.

Clause 32 states:

When constructing or operating a railway, a railway company must not cause unreasonable noise, taking into account (a) its obligations under sections 113 and 114— (b) its operational requirements—

The phrase “its operational requirements” is pretty generic. One might even say that it is general, because it is not clear what it is referring to exactly. Naturally, a company could always plead before the Canadian Transport Agency that its operational requirements require it to be in operation 24 hours a day.

I recall my discussion with the railways, particularly the companies in my riding which service the Port of Montreal. They referred to the necessity, given the importance of that port, to ensure the fastest possible connections. That is why they had no scruples about operating around the clock.

Now for the third criterion to be considered: the location of railway construction or operation. As I have said, when one looks at a city like Montreal, back in the early days of urban planning, it was not uncommon to find residential and industrial areas in the same place, because workers had no cars and needed to be as close to possible to their work place.

Today, of course, there are ecological concerns. Our party has a good record on this, moreover. The Bloc Québécois was the one to obtain a tax deduction to encourage our fellow citizens to take public transit. I myself have no car, and I live between two metro stations, Pie IX and Viau. I get around on public transit.

What is more, in order to encourage our fellow citizens along this path, the Bloc Québécois wants to see monthly transit passes made tax-deductible. The member for Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, our party's transport critic, got that passed in the House. Although there was no unanimity, it was still a very significant vote. I congratulate my hon. colleague on it.

Now, continuing with the obligations under clause 32. It reads:

The Agency may issue and publish, in any manner that it considers appropriate, guidelines—

These are the powers of a quasi-judiciary tribunal, which is what the Transportation Agency is and thus empowered to issue orders that are enforceable.

I have only a minute left, and I would not want to disappoint you, Madam Speaker, on your last day in this House. In conclusion, the Bloc Québécois would have been pleased to be able to work in committee to improve Bill C-44, the principle of which we support. We would, however, have liked to have beefed up its clause 32, which offers our fellow citizens a glimmer of hope.

Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.


Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, first I want to congratulate my colleague from Hochelaga for his excellent speech on Bill C-44. I would also like to recognize the hard work of my colleague from Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher who forced the Minister of Transport to reintroduce Bill C-44, which was first introduced as Bill C-26 in the previous Parliament. That bill was deferred and I was then given the opportunity to stand up for it.

My question for my colleague from Hochelaga is as follows. I attended one of his committee meetings where he invited industry officials. I was somewhat disappointed with what the industry had to say, especially with regard to noise, because it was essentially a monologue. They tried to make us understand the problems they faced. They stressed there was nothing they could do and that, all and all, the neighbours were the ones who did not understand.

I wonder whether the fact the minister took so long to reintroduce this bill has anything to do with the industry's lobbying to prevent the study and adoption of this bill. Often, when industry sees problems in a bill or investments that would have to be made—or even sanctions or fines—or when it feels threatened, it begins to lobby. Finally, the transportation agency must have some authority.

I would like to know whether my colleague, who has a talent for mediation—I have seen it—and legal training as well, agrees with me that the industry might have put on some pressure and lobbied to prevent this bill from being introduced quickly.

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5:25 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for such an insightful question. It is the sort of question we have come to expect from him in this House. I know that he is very happy with his new responsibilities but that he still has fond memories of his time as transport critic. We appreciated his work.

I have two comments. It is hard to understand that the government did not consider this a priority. How could it wait so long? Without the great perseverance shown by the transport critic, the member for Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, I am not sure that the minister would have come around. I do not mind doing a little mediation, but when we talk with our fellow citizens, it is clear that we need legislation to back us up. The message that this late introduction and the hesitations of the Minister of Transport is sending is that, as far as the government's intentions go, we are concerned about the quality of our fellow citizens' lives.

However, I think that the content of clause 32 should be beefed up. We need to put teeth into it to ensure that domestic carriers, particularly the railways, will have a price to pay if they do not respect a minimum quality of life.

The Bloc Québécois is also realistic. We know that, in Hochelaga, the railway companies will not be expropriated. We need to consider some sort of coexistence. Those who live near the tracks and the railway companies have to find a modus operandi that keeps everyone happy.

I have to admit that I have never been impressed by the efforts made by the railway companies to invest in the quality of life. What my fellow citizens from Hochelaga wanted was some sort of anti-noise barriers like we see elsewhere. It might not be perfect, but it certainly is a reasonable mitigation measure to ask for.

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5:25 p.m.


Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on Bill C-44, whose title bears repeating: An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act, to enact the VIA Rail Canada Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

This is an important bill. In fact, it is an exact copy of Bill C-26, which the government had introduced in the previous Parliament. This is surprising, since this bill, when it was introduced the last time, was almost a national emergency. We had worked hard in order to make the government understand that some parts of the legislation needed to be reviewed and amended, but there was suddenly an election. The current Prime Minister decided to call a snap election and, ultimately, the bill died on the order paper.

So it is surprising to see this bill introduced once again, when we know full well that this government will fall today. We are talking about it, but everyone in the House is well aware that this bill will not, once again, be passed in this parliamentary session.

Ultimately, members are here, particularly when considering bills such as this, to defend the interests of their constituents. Earlier, my colleague from Lévis—Bellechasse told the House about the potential problems in his riding due to the Charny yard. Likewise, my colleague from Hochelaga just talked about similar problems experienced by the constituents in his riding due to the noise from the Moreau yard, in Montreal.

Clearly, the Bloc Québécois wants to resolve these problems. As my colleague from Hochelaga said so well, the unrelenting efforts of my colleague from Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher forced the Minister of Transport to re-introduce this bill. We wish it had been introduced last spring, but it was put off. The Minister of Transport made that decision. I am always surprised to see the member for Outremont tearfully defending public interests when he knows full well that the public deserves to see its interests defended on several fronts with regard to transportation. He will not have done so, because once again, this bill will go no further.

The problem of citizens who live close to railroad yards in Quebec and in Canada and are bothered by the noise of whistles will not be solved because the bill will not be adopted by this House, even though the Bloc Québécois wants to take part in the debate, discuss the bill and move it to the next step. That is what we would want. However, it is worth talking about the bill today. It is by talking about it and explaining its importance to Liberal members that we will surely see it adopted during the next Parliament.

The bill has four parts: one on railway transport; a second one on air transport; a third one on complaints; and finally, one on VIA Rail. As for railway transport, it is a rapidly evolving market. We saw the rail market go through a low and it is now picking up momentum. All those who saw railway lines disappear here and there in Canada will be surprised to see new advocates for railway transport or new stakeholders in the area.

I had the chance to experience the situation in my former incarnation. Before being a member of Parliament, I was reeve of Papineau regional county municipality. There still is a railroad in Papineau. It now belongs to an independent corporation which manages it under the name Quebec Gatineau Railway. At one time, Canadian Pacific wanted to dispose of the railroad and transfer responsibility for it to the adjacent landowners. I was one of the first persons to intervene and say that the Outaouais did not have a highway. At the time, there was no highway 50 and it has not been completed yet, but it is in the development phase now. That could be the subject of a debate at a later date. So losing the railway meant losing all industrial development potential.

We had no road networks, no highways and we were losing the railway. All the mayors from the communities and municipalities along that track got together. Since the track was going to be removed, everyone got together and agreed that it made no sense to do so. There was potential, industries and clients. Canadian Pacific waged an all-out war until, because of my position as chair of the Outaouais economic council, we made an offer to Canadian Pacific. We simply told them that since they thought the track may never be profitable to them, they could offer it to independent railway owners.

Believe or not, when the call for tenders went out, CP got eight responses, thus eight potential buyers. This railway is in operation today and is called the Quebec-Gatineau Railway. It is a shortline. It is therefore run by an independent, privately owned company. It is a profitable company and it allows the entire region to still develop its industry and have the railway as an industrial benefit.

However, other regions were not as lucky. Train tracks have been removed and others are on the chopping block. The purpose of this bill, among other things, was to allow defunct railways to be handed over to the municipalities and public transportation agencies first.

My riding starts in Gatineau and ends at the border of Saint-Eustache, at the edge of the Montreal urban community, which currently includes Mirabel. In the coming years we hope Mirabel can benefit from light rail public transportation. That would help in the development of the entire Saint-Augustin sector, the entire Saint-Janvier region and other regions as well. These sectors could benefit from rail transportation. For the Mirabel—Saint-Janvier sector, I am referring to the Little Train from the North, which no longer exists today. Some corridors could reopen and light rail could be used for public transportation.

The purpose of this bill is to allow transfer of companies directly to public or municipal transportation agencies wanting said companies for public transportation purposes. There is a strong will on our part.

As we were saying earlier, one of the major concerns is noise. A policy needed to be established because too many people were complaining about being disrupted by the rail industry's operations.

I was asking my colleague from Hochelaga earlier if he did not think that one of the reasons this bill had come so late, and the Minister of Transport, the member for Outremont, had waited so long before bringing it forward, was because of the pressure and the lobbying from the railway industry. That is one of the main reasons. When we talk about changing the industry operations, about forcing it to comply with viable noise standards, the industry only sees big expenses. However, it is simply about how things are done. We have to change the way things are done.

Earlier, my colleague was referring to a noise barrier, to the construction of a soil fence which could block the noise in a whole sector. So, such solutions are not unthinkable. The problem is that the industry must change its operating methods.

Today, we no longer connect the railway cars and the locomotives by hand. It is done mechanically and electronically. To ensure that they are well connected and will not get disconnected, the connections are louder and louder, and more and more forceful. This creates noise, which causes damage. The communities living near the railway yards are more and more inconvenienced by the noise.

I was the president of the Quebec union of municipalities from 1997 to 2000. What the municipalities wanted was to be able to apply municipal antinoise or noise limitation bylaws to railway yards or to railway transport areas.

The federal government obviously rejected this possibility, because—as we know—there is the whole situation in which, in constitutional terms, federal laws take precedence over provincial laws, which take precedence over municipal laws. The government did not want to give up its right in this case. So it has to regulate noise. The problem is that there has never been any regulations on noise in federal legislation on transportation.

Today, they are proposing one possibility. My colleague from Hochelaga—Maisonneuve mentioned it earlier. Clause 32 is a beginning. The transportation agency—prior to today and the passage of this bill—had only qualified mediation powers. That is, it made recommendations to the industry. However, if the industry paid them no heed, then the transportation agency had no authority to force it, to provide a fine or to have the work done and to bill it.

The next version of the act should change that, we hope. Clause 32, which amends the Transportation Act, provides, “When constructing or operating a railway, a railway company must not cause unreasonable noise, taking into account—”.

So this is the first time the federal government would impose a standard on noise pollution on the railway transportation industry. Noise is in fact pollution. I will spare you all the studies that have been tabled. I had the opportunity to receive them from all the defence organizations. Noise pollution definitely exists. The human ear can tolerate a certain number of decibels. Beyond this level, the noise is intolerable and can make people deaf or ill. Obviously, it causes stress and many other symptoms. International studies have proven it. Furthermore, noise at nighttime must be quieter than in the daytime.

As my colleague from Hochelaga mentioned, in the marshalling yards, the problem lies in the fact that railway transportation runs 24 hours a day, to the detriment of the quality of life of people living near these yards.

I am calling on the railway transportation industry: you have to stop telling us that railroad yards were built before residential sectors and that people should not have built houses there. Let us never forget that, when these yards were first created, it was in areas that were developed or that were going to be developed and, in the end, houses were built around these industrial facilities. Today, understandably those who bought these houses can object to something that was not anticipated in the 17th and 18th centuries. Such is the reality.

This bill is a step in the right direction and that is why the Bloc Québécois would have supported it. We wanted to work in committee and to improve this legislation. That will not be the case, because the Minister of Transport took too long to reintroduce Bill C-44, which is a carbon copy of former Bill C-26. The minister cannot claim that this initiative required a tremendous amount of work. Of course, it is a rather large document of more than 90 pages, but it is a carbon copy of former Bill C-26, which had been introduced in the previous Parliament and which died on the order paper, because the Prime Minister and former Minister of Finance decided to call an election in the spring of 2004.

Today, in order to better understand this whole issue, it must also be realized that Bill C-44 sought to implement the VIA Rail Canada Act, which would have created VIA Rail. In fact, VIA Rail already exists, but this legislation would have made it an independent company. The only criticism that the Bloc Québécois could make—as is still the case—has to do with the fact that, currently, VIA Rail is still not subject to the Access to Information Act.

I remind the House about the Gomery commission and what happened regarding VIA Rail's president, Mr. Pelletier. He was in the hot seat a lot. He testified before the Gomery commission. He used VIA Rail's money to buy advertising from ad companies which were receiving kickbacks that were then given back to the Liberal Party.

That is what was revealed by the Gomery commission. The concern with this bill is essentially that it does not make VIA Rail subject to the Access to Information Act. There is no way of knowing how much the president or any of the employees are spending. Were lavish dinners held at the time when Justice Gomery released the reports on VIA Rail? There is no way of knowing if major expenditures were made or if the president treated his cronies to dinner. There is no way, because the Access to Information Act cannot be used to look at what is going on in this crown corporation, VIA Rail.

I am pleased to say that the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, on which I sit, asked the information commissioner to produce a bill, given that the government did not want to amend its Access to Information Act.

I am proud to say that, in the bill he submitted to our committee—which, incidentally, was reported on and, in turn, the report was unanimously passed by this House—the Information Commissioner of Canada, Mr. Reid, expressed the wish that a legislative amendment be passed as soon as possible, requiring VIA Rail to comply with the Access to Information Act, to allow members of the public, MPs and journalists to request documents from VIA Rail, with the exception of anything having to do with trade secrets. Any information on trade secrets would not come under the new Access to Information Act. The Minister of Transport could have dealt with this issue regarding VIA Rail. With the bill before us, he could have decided to immediately bring VIA Rail within the scope of the Access to Information Act—which has not been done—while at the same time protecting trade secrets; after all, we would not want VIA Rail to reveal its trade secrets.

What we do want is for VIA Rail and its employees to be required to disclose their expenses, so that we can get a clear picture of what the president of VIA Rail did, which was to buy advertising, or documentaries, singing the praises of Canada and making frequent investments that allowed ad agencies to pocket sizeable commissions.

The sponsorship scandal is based on this: take the people's money, the taxpayers' money, which our fellow citizens worked hard to earn with the sweat of their brows. They entrusted their tax dollars to the government. Then the Liberal government decided to give out contracts, directly or indirectly through such agencies as VIA Rail, to communications firms to promote and publicize Canada, or to private companies. There was a kickback system in place, however. This was termed a commission, and ranged between 15% and 20% of the total. It was pocketed by the communications agencies and then they gave part of it to the Liberal Party of Canada.

If I had not mentioned Canada in my explanation, many people listening to us would have thought of numerous other countries where there are dictatorships. In some of those countries, the taxpayers' money is used for other purposes, and that is what is happening here in Canada.

That is why the public and the opposition parties have decided today to defeat this government, to say it no longer has our confidence, for the pure and simple reason that we never again want a government in Canada to take the hard-earned money of its tax-paying citizens and use it for partisan vote-getting purposes. We never again want to see a government award contracts to advertising agencies, with generous commissions attached, and for those agencies to make contributions to the Liberal Party in return. We never want to see that again. That is why, today, this government will be defeated.

Obviously, what we have before us is a bill on transportation. Transportation is always important in our eyes, but it is also important for the government to understand today that, whether it be VIA Rail, Canada, Post, the Department of Public Works and Government Services, or all the money it can spend in advertising and promotion, the public will never again allow it to take its money, buy advertising, hand out bonuses or commissions to agencies, and then get kickbacks from them for the Liberal Party coffers.

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5:45 p.m.

Beauce Québec


Claude Drouin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister (Rural Communities)

Madam Speaker, first, I would like to sincerely thank the people of Beauce for giving me the opportunity and the privilege to represent them here in Ottawa. It has been a wonderful experience for almost nine years, and I sincerely thank them for it.

I would like to thank my family who have been willing to make many sacrifices. I appreciate their understanding. It is my turn now to make a sacrifice in order to spend more time with them.

I wish also to thank the many volunteers who worked for me to ensure the realization of great projects in our region, Beauce.

I also wish to thank my colleagues on both sides of the House. We have had the opportunity to work together for the well-being of Canadians. We recognize the importance of the House and the work it does.

If I had one wish, it would be to ensure that we adopt measures so that those who want to go into politics and have a family could have a schedule that is more suited to their needs, because it is really hard. I have a 20-month old child and I can tell you that it is hard to be in Ottawa 26 weeks per year and practically five days a week. We should review the way we work so that those who want to serve the well-being of the public, in keeping with democracy, can do so without constraints, whether they be family related or personal.

To conclude, I want to thank those who work here, on Parliament Hill, to serve politicians so that we are able to provide Canadians with the services they require. To all those men and women who work very hard, I say thank you.

Madam Speaker, I wish to thank you for giving me the opportunity to thank, once again, the people of Beauce for their support.

Since I have the time, I will thank those who have worked for me in my riding and here in Ottawa, for almost nine years now. They have made countless sacrifices to provide the best services possible to the population.

Once again, thank you all. I wish everyone success, health and happiness as the holiday season approaches. To those who are waiting for me, I extend my heartfelt thanks.

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5:50 p.m.


Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, I commend the member for Beauce. Let us put aside our political partisanship for a few minutes. The member has always been a hard worker and was always present in the House. Once again, I can understand that it is not always easy to strike a balance between work and family.

We hope the member for Beauce will keep up the good work and we wish him and his family many more great moments.

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5:50 p.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Rivière-Du-Loup—Montmagny, QC

Madam Speaker, I am happy to have the opportunity to speak to questions and comments about this bill. From the time I became a member of Parliament until today, railway transportation has grown a lot. The traditional vision of railway transportation has been replaced by an environmentally friendly vision, and this is for the best.

One aspect of the present situation is not raised by this bill and deserves all of our attention. It should perhaps not be dealt with by the bill per se. It is the whole matter of security. Over the past years, we have realized that Canadian National's practices have led to important accidents which are not isolated cases. In my riding an accident took place in Sainte-Hélène de Kamouraska which could have been very serious due to a chemical spill. Also, there was a derailment near Montmagny.

I am wondering if we should not be trying to find a way, given the growth of railway transportation, to be able to look at the security aspects a bit more closely, to add resources if necessary. In this area, budget cuts are frequent. In the end, basic services are not provided. Maintenance is not adequate and mishaps occur, as we have seen. This is why I wanted to raise this issue.

To conclude, I would like to ask my colleague the following question. How does he see the future of railway transportation? Also, if this bill is passed when Parliament returns, will the new law be a positive factor to increase railway transportation, especially in view of the Kyoto accord?

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5:50 p.m.


Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, to answer my colleague's last question, I must say that rail transport is the future. Intermodal transport will be the solution. Quebec has the St. Lawrence river, this amazing navigable waterway that has existed since the dawn of time. Use of this waterway must be optimized, which it currently is not. Nevertheless, rail and marine transport represent the solution of tomorrow.

As for the member's first question, this is essential, because rail safety is a real problem right now. Businesses need to stop lobbying and preventing the government from investing the necessary funding. Legislation must be amended, because, in my colleague's riding and elsewhere, a number of issues remain unresolved. We need only think of the Quebec City bridge, a file we have discussed recently and which the Minister of Transport is trying to resolve in the midst of disputes with CP.

The problem lies in the fact that the companies are responsible for maintaining the lines and the bridges. Herein lies the problem: do they have the means to do so? If not, the government has to adopt legislation under which it will pay for and complete such work, and then bill the companies, even if the latter have to make multi-year payments, so that our railways, bridges and culverts are safe.

The member for Outremont and Minister of Transport is squashing any such hope of that. He wants to launch legal proceedings against the industries and the latter say that they will defend themselves in court. Ultimately, safety issues will never be resolved by this Liberal government.

Like my colleague, the Bloc Québécois wants to defend the interests of our constituents by ensuring that the government will one day listen to reason and be able to undertake the work itself and bill the industry for it so as to ensure the public's safety.

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5:55 p.m.


Guy Côté Bloc Portneuf, QC

Madam Speaker, first, I wish to point out that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain.

Madam Speaker, I understand that you are retiring from public life. It was an honour, every time, to hear you call the name of my riding. Had we been here longer, maybe one day you would have done it without hesitating. Anyhow, I was very pleased to hear you every time.

As has been mentioned on numerous occasions, we support the principle of Bill C-44. I wish to speak specifically to the part concerning rail transportation.

A railway line runs through the entire Portneuf RCM, in my riding of Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier. Indeed, rail is a critical component of intermodal transportation. Earlier, my colleague for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel talked about the importance of the St. Lawrence Seaway. There is a good example in the Portneuf RCM which, with the Portneuf wharf, combines very successfully sea transportation, rail transportation and trucking. I think of a number of businesses in my riding that rely on these three transportation modes, including Ciment Québec and Alcoa.

I wanted to talk to you more specifically about the railroad part, because one of the aspects of this bill involves trying to resolve certain irritants relating to intermodal and railway transport of goods. I can confirm, as can all of the people of Pont-Rouge and its environs, that the railroad runs very definitely on time. Every evening at 10 p.m., a train passes within a kilometre of where I live. It and its whistle can both be heard very clearly.

I know when I hear it it is time to turn on the television for the national news. It does not bother me all that much, because my house is some distance away from the tracks. However, a few years ago, I lived much closer to them. So, in addition to the noise of the train, there was the problem of the vibrations. We can all see glasses clinking together in the cupboard, in our mind's eye. It is annoying sometimes.

In principle, as I was saying, we support Bill C-44. Unfortunately, one of the negative aspects is that the provisions governing excess noise do not permit the limiting of other annoyances. I think the agency has the legislative framework needed to be given authority over annoyances. It does not perhaps go far enough in terms of oil and gas fumes and vibrations.

It will be noted that, in the context of C-44, and more specifically clause 32, reference is made to noise of a railway and more specifically, the noise near marshalling yards, which is an irritant met in a number of Quebec ridings. As I mentioned that can be a problem not just near marshalling yards. It occurs in the many villages along the shores of the St. Lawrence Seaway. I mentioned Pont-Rouge earlier as an example, but I could have mentioned the towns of the Portneuf RCM.

Clause 32 of the bill gives the Canadian Transportation Agency the power to examine complaints about noise to order the railway company to take certain measures to prevent unreasonable noise. It should be pointed out that, in its mediation, the agency must consider the railway company's economic requirements.

Consequently, again, as is often the case, we must find a balance between the comfort of residents, the comfort of citizens, the right to a relatively quiet private life and certain economic and commercial factors.

In fact, up until 2000, pursuant to section 95, the agency believed it had an extended power allowing it to force a company against which a complaint was made to limit disturbances to a minimum. However, the agency was using a power it did not have.

This is why, when certain people say that, and rightly so, section 32 of Bill C-44 does not give the agency as much power as in 2000, we must keep in mind that the old act did not allow it any recourse, either.

Moreover, section 95 is not amended by Bill C-44, and the requirement for minimal disturbance during the operation of a railway line stays the same. This section empowers the agency to reconcile the need to allow rail companies to do business with the right of residents to live in a reasonably peaceful environment. Accordingly, the agency will be empowered to order a railway company to undertake any changes in order to prevent unreasonable noise, but it must take financial factors into account.

The orders of the transportation agency are like orders of a superior court. Anyone who contravenes such an order may be guilty of contempt of court and may be liable to imprisonment.

Accordingly, as I said earlier, the Bloc Québécois supports the principle of Bill C-44. Indeed, there are a number of provisions, especially in this section, that allow the agency to regulate, up to a point, the noise aspect of rail transportation.

However, there are still a number of criticisms. If this bill is introduced again in a future Parliament, one will need to be raised. Actually, besides noise, the clause does not provide for other nuisances to be curtailed. The Bloc Québécois believes that the agency has the necessary regulatory framework to give it jurisdiction in terms of fumes, such as oil and gasoline, and vibrations. It would be very important that these elements appear in any future incarnation of this bill.

Ten minutes go by very quickly. I was talking about the possibility that this bill be introduced again in a future Parliament. Allow me to take my remaining few minutes to thank the constituents of Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, who put their trust in me in June 2004. In all likelihood, within the next hour, a very rare event will take place in this chamber: thanks to a very clear motion, the opposition will withdraw the confidence it previously placed in the government. All my constituents in Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier know that I will run again for the Bloc Québécois. I hope that they will put their trust in me again, like they did in June 2004.

Let me conclude by saying that we are in favour of Bill C-44, even if some of its clauses need to be reviewed.

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6 p.m.


Louis Plamondon Bloc Richelieu, QC

Madam Speaker, I also want to take advantage of this opportunity. This is likely the last chance I will have to speak during this Parliament since the government will fall in less than half an hour.

I want to thank my voters for the confidence they have in me. I also want them to know that I am counting on them to renew this mandate of confidence for a seventh time. I am thinking of my constituents from the beautiful Bécancour RCM, the Nicolet RCM and the Bas-Richelieu RCM, which make up the great riding I have been representing for 21 years now.

I have a question for my colleague on Bill C-44. He gave some strong arguments on the interest the municipalities have in enacting stricter noise regulations. In my region, for example, there is the small municipality of Aston-Jonction, which often complains about the railway traffic that overruns its beautiful rural municipality. In Saint-Joseph-de-Sorel, the municipal council has often expressed disapproval of the work done overnight to switch railcars over. The same complaint is made in Sorel-Tracy, specifically in the Tracy sector. Of course we are in favour of this bill because it could partially resolve quite a few matters.

I want to ask a question of my learned colleague from Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier who spoke so eloquently about clause 32. I would like him to clarify the need for this clause or the questions he had about it.

I would also like to know whether he has any concerns about certain parts of the bill. For example, there is the fact that the agency no longer has to submit an annual report on the complaints it receives, or the fact that the head office can be moved by a simple order and not, as is usually the case, after consulting Parliament. There is also the fact that VIA Rail is not subject to the Access to Information Act. That annoys me somewhat since we often need to use that legislation since VIA Rail often drags its feet.

Once again I want to thank my colleague from Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier. He has been here for a year and, as I ask him this question, I also wish him much success. I have no doubt that he will be re-elected.

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6:05 p.m.


Guy Côté Bloc Portneuf, QC

Madam Speaker, of course, I wish the same to my valiant colleague from Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour and I thank him for his good words. Likewise, I am convinced that constituents of this wonderful riding—where I had the pleasure to go most recently to celebrate the member's 20 years in the political arena—will trust him once again with a new mandate.

My colleague mentioned a number of irritants. I must say that I totally agree with him in this regard. Too often, agencies, quasi-public or semipublic businesses take advantage of the fact that they are not directly under the control of the government to exempt themselves from the Access to Information Act. This is very unfortunate. Indeed, quite often, many of these businesses get public funds and very large sums of money.

Consequently, when we talk about the democratic deficit, about transparency in government spending, in politics in the noble sense of the word, it would seem normal to me that VIA Rail, for example, would be subject to the Access to Information Act.

We had a good example of this recently. I certainly do not want to bring back the sponsorship scandal to the House, but everyone remembers what happened at VIA Rail and the dismissal of its president of the board. Since this case is still before the courts, I will certainly not deal with it any longer.

As my colleague mentioned, there are still a number of things to clarify about Bill C-44. We will do so in the next Parliament.

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November 28th, 2005 / 6:10 p.m.


Marcel Gagnon Bloc Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this House, probably for the last time.

I will take advantage of this debate on Bill C-44 to try and “keep on track”. As for transportation, I think I can say that I have travelled a lot, not so much by Via Rail or train, but rather by car. I live in a huge riding located four hours away from Ottawa. The geographic size of my riding of Saint-Maurice—Champlain is within 4,000 kilometres of that of Switzerland. It is not a riding, but rather a country that needs to be populated. The population of this small country, the size of Switzerland, is approximately 100,000.

This explains why we know a lot about transportation in our area. Unfortunately, we do not have everything we need.

The environment problem is one area of transportation that I consider important. We know that no mode of transportation will ever really protect the environment.

Coming back to Switzerland, one only has to go to Europe, to France for example, to see how transportation was developed in order to help the world and the human beings who need it, in harmony with the environment.

Obviously, a riding such as mine, with 100,000 inhabitants, cannot benefit from the same services as Switzerland. However, there are ways to adapt rail transportation in order to use it more and to use it better, and in order to protect people properly. Noise pollution due to railways is quite unpleasant, but the situation can certainly be improved.

Last week, I was disappointed that a bill I cared very much about was rejected at third reading. Today, perhaps one mayor in my riding will be happy about this bill since it seeks to improve the effects of the rail system on the environment and, among other things, it seeks to reduce noise.

The mayor of Saint-Tite, which is the capital of western culture, with a western festival of its own, often tells me that it is quite incredible that the railway going by this village bothers people in the middle of the night to the point where it is almost unbearable. Trains must be slowed down and barriers must be erected, because it is dangerous for tourists. Saint-Tite has 5,000 inhabitants. But during the festival, 150,000 people stay there. While being adapted to our needs, rail transportation must avoid problems related to the environment.

I am not going to discuss this bill clause by clause, but I hope that we will focus on developing transportation which is as ecological as possible.

I take the opportunity to thank you, Madam Speaker, and bid you farewell. I know that this is your last day in this Parliament, since you will not be running in the next election. You have been of great service to us. You did a good job chairing the debates in this House and it has always been a pleasure to work with you.

I want to take this opportunity to congratulate those who are here to serve us in this House. In a way, they take care of some of our transportation needs as they bring us our water, with a smile. All too often, when we see these people in the House, we tend to forget that they are here to serve us and that we should thank them for that. I want to thank them now on behalf of all my colleagues. Today, I had the pleasure of bringing them a rose so they can remember that they made our life easier. Even their smiles warm up this place and I want to thank them for that.

I also want to congratulate all those who, like me, will not be seeking re-election and are here for the last time.

I wish to thank them for the discussions we had, even for the arguments and the fights, for through it all, we have, I hope, moved society forward.

This Parliament is democratic in nature. If we want it to stay that way, I think we must have the privilege to use democracy. I hope the Prime Minister—I do not know if he will be re-elected and come back—will do what he said he would during the last election, when he talked a great deal about democratizing debate. He has not had much success with this yet. If he comes back, I hope he will work toward that or that the next prime minister will. It is the only way to ensure Canadians will get answers from government. We could get things done if we used this House as a temple of democracy.

Too often, we realize after asking 440 questions that we still do not have answers. It took an inquiry to finally get answers. To me, that is a serious infringement of democracy. I hope that in the future we will be able to use Parliament as a tool of democracy that nurtures democracy in such a way that Canadians have better access to what we do, are better informed about what we do, and encourage us to work harder to serve them better.

Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.


Yvon Lévesque Bloc Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Madam Speaker, you have always had a bit of difficulty with the name of this riding, but I will not miss this opportunity to wish you a happy retirement, since we are probably fast approaching the end of your mandate. I would also like to congratulate my colleague, the hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain, who will also retire. I wish him a very happy retirement, and he certainly deserves it. I have been here for only a little more than a year, but it was enough for me to appreciate him greatly. I hope his successor will be as nice as he.

To come back to the debate on Bill C-44, I have a little story I want to tell members of the House. Last summer, I had the opportunity to make a trip to the Maritimes. My wife suggested that we take the train. The last time I had taken the train before that was in 1954, to go to Abitibi, where, incidentally, I received tremendous support and was elected in the last election. Voters from Abitibi are still really happy to greet me when we meet and I will be glad to represent them for a new mandate if they so decide.

But let me come back to my trip to the Maritimes. I was unpleasantly surprised by the instability of the tracks and by the noise. The last time I took the train, there was a whistle, now there is a horn. We were in the observation car, that is at the end of the train but I could still hear the horn which was sounded many times during the night.

I was also unpleasantly surprised to note that the content of the toilets is still flushed directly onto the tracks where children sometimes play or where people walk. I did not see anything in the bill to change that. Mention could have been made of new technologies to reduce noise and stabilize the tracks.

I therefore ask my colleague from Saint-Maurice—Champlain if he saw anywhere that kind of obligation imposed on VIA Rail or Canadian National.

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6:20 p.m.


Marcel Gagnon Bloc Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

No, Madam Speaker, I have not seen to what extent we can solve the problem.

I know we talk a lot about environmental problems related to noise, both inside and outside the train. As for the dumping of waste my colleague mentioned, indeed it is an issue that must be solved. This is why, in the next Parliament, this legislation will have to be improved.

My colleague said he took the train to the maritime provinces. I take this opportunity to say that it is possible to make a wonderful trip to the north of my riding. It is a long way to communities like Weymontachie and many others in the northern part of my riding. They are totally isolated in the woods. However, my riding is worth visiting by train, and visitors can reach the most magnificent lakes. Thus, they can enjoy fishing and many other outdoor activities. I think my hon. colleague for Trois-Rivières has had an opportunity to ride on that train.

In addition, I take this opportunity to mention that in my area, the scenery is beautiful. Train transportation must be improved in all aspects, but in the meantime, it is available. And if people choose the train rather than a car or a truck, this mode of transportation is less damaging to the environment and its use would help the train to solve its own environmental problems.

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6:20 p.m.

Yukon Yukon


Larry Bagnell LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-44.

As I said earlier, I have two magnificent rail projects in my riding. One railroad goes through Alaska and it is one of the most successful railways in North America. A project is under study now which I have been talking to members of Parliament about for years. I have been asking for that railway to be joined with the rest of the Canadian railway system which would go through my riding of Yukon.

I would also like to talk about the White Pass Railway which goes from Skagway, Alaska--

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6:20 p.m.

An hon. member

A wonderful railway.