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.