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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.

Topics

(Bill S-19. On the Order: Private Members' Business:)

September 28, 2005—Member for Gatineau—Second reading and reference to Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness of Bill S-19, an act to amend the Criminal code (criminal interest rate).

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Order, please. The hon. member for Gatineau is not present to move the motion as announced in today's order paper. Accordingly, the order will be dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

The Speaker

The sitting will be suspended until 12 noon.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:05 a.m.)

(The House resumed at 12 p.m.)

Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

November 28th, 2005 / noon

Richmond B.C.

Liberal

Raymond Chan Liberalfor the Minister of Transport

moved that Bill C-44, 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, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Miramichi New Brunswick

Liberal

Charles Hubbard LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased today to lead off debate on second reading of Bill C-44, which makes a significant number of amendments to transportation regulations and policies in our country.

Today I would like to concentrate mainly on the air transportation provisions in support of the proposed amendments to the Canada Transportation Act.

Air transportation is an essential tool connecting Canadians to each other and the world. Canada's air industry contributes immensely to the growth and prosperity enjoyed by Canadians, providing an economic engine that supports aspects of economic development in all sectors of our society and is an essential component to the success of Canada's trade agenda.

As the House is aware, the federal government's role in air policy has changed dramatically since 1988 when the domestic air industry was deregulated. The objective of deregulation was to allow market forces rather than the government to dictate the supply and price of air services in the domestic market. At the same time, the Government of Canada implemented and maintained strict controls to ensure appropriate oversight and consumer protection.

In the Speech from the Throne, the Government of Canada committed to provide businesses in Canada with smart government. By this we mean providing an up to date legislative framework consisting of “a transparent and predictable regulatory system that accomplishes public policy objectives efficiently while eliminating unintended impacts”.

In the spirit of this commitment to smart government, the objectives of the proposed air transportation amendments are threefold: technical housekeeping; improved clarity and efficiency; and above all, consumer protection.

In general, the proposed amendments include provisions that would clarify the intent of the legislation to facilitate the regulatory functions of the Canadian Transportation Agency to respond to changes in Canada's air transportation marketplace and to ensure consistency in the application of the agency's regulatory powers.

I will now speak directly to the proposed measures that would further protect Canadian consumers.

In 2000, when Air Canada acquired Canadian Airlines, it served close to 80% of the domestic scheduled air services market. The Government of Canada took a number of measures at that time to protect consumers from potential abuses and to foster a competitive air industry market that was open to new entrants.

Although these temporary measures were effective during the transition period of the air industry in the last few years, they are no longer necessary in the current reality of Canada's domestic air market. The proposed amendments would return the agency to its traditional well-established regulatory and complaints-based function and structure in place prior to 2000.

Today Air Canada remains Canada's largest and dominant air carrier with over 50% of the market. Canada now boasts, however, several national, regional and charter airlines such as WestJet, CanJet, First Air, Air North, and Air Transat, which provide increased competition and consumer choice in all areas of the country from coast to coast and beyond.

The proposed amendments aim to continue to allow market forces to do their work, and airlines, both new and expanding, to make their decisions based on private sector commercial realities, free of unnecessary or impeding legislation. We intend to stay the course of deregulation, which means letting air industries thrive and, unfortunately, sometimes falter on the merits of the business choices they make.

As the House may recall, in 2000 the Office of the Air Travel Complaints Commissioner was created to review complaints and attempt to resolve the matters by acting as a facilitator or arranging for formal mediation of the complaint. The commissioner served a useful function in addressing complaints of potential consumer abuses by a dominant Air Canada and in determining whether complaints should be handled by the agency where the matter related to its exclusive jurisdiction.

Over the past few years, changing market dynamics and the erosion of Air Canada's market dominance by low cost carriers has resulted in a reduction of the number of complaints targeted specifically toward Air Canada. Today, the complaints are distributed more proportionately across Canada's air carriers and relate mainly to regulatory matters falling with the ongoing jurisdiction of the agency.

Our proposed amendments would eliminate the position and office of the commissioner and would make permanent and transparent the complaints resolution function of the agency by integrating this function into the regular operations of the agency. I want to stress that the complaints resolution function and the agency's ability to respond to these complaints remain intact.

I should note that with the recent implementation of the air traffic complaints program, the agency has demonstrated that it continues to respond to travellers' complaints in an informal manner and consistent with its ongoing mandate. In fact, proposed amendments to the legislation would ensure that the agency will continue to have the flexibility to address consumer complaints more efficiently through the existing informal process in place or through the formal quasi-judicial process employed by the agency itself.

This amendment would also allow a more strategic and efficient use of our resources. This is consistent with how complaints are addressed in other modes of transportation in Canada and puts air operators on the same level playing field with these competing transportation modes.

Consumer protection was a major objective of the Government of Canada following Air Canada's acquisition of Canadian in 2000 and it remains so today. Consumers have told us that in the area of airline advertising there remains, however, significant room for improvement. Consumers want clear, transparent advertising that is not misleading. They want to be able to compare different airlines' advertising pricing and to know up front how much they will pay for air services.

Price advertisements prepared by air carriers, either in newspapers, on Internet sites or elsewhere, do not always contain complete or clear pricing information. Often the prices that are advertised are only a fraction of the total cost of the travel, leading to sticker shock when the consumer finds out the final price.

Typical advertised air fares exclude air navigation service costs, other business costs to the airline for provision of air services, and all of these, we feel, should be included with the advertised price. Therefore, the advertised air fares must include surcharges, taxes and any other fees that airlines collect from individual passengers on behalf of others.

While consumers are alerted to the existence of additional airline surcharges and other fees and charges in the small print, travellers often cannot always determine the total price of the ticket until they finalize a purchase.

Other countries, such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, have instituted similar regimes to ensure that consumers have sufficient pricing information. Some provinces, such as Quebec and Ontario, require transparent advertising of air travel by travel agents and other provincially regulated operators. Consumers, we believe, want a similar level of transparency for advertising by airlines throughout the country.

The proposed amendments provide air operators with clear directions in line with consumer expectations and will give the agency the authority to regulate and enforce mandatory standards for transparency in advertising in all media. This will ensure that those standards are consistently applied across the country throughout the industry by all domestic and foreign carriers and their agents for flights operating within or originating in Canada.

This clearly will provide consumers with the ability to readily determine and compare the final price for air travel when making their travel plans and will allow consumers to differentiate between costs being charged by the airline and those levelled by governments and airport authorities for other services provided.

In addition, consumers are entitled to know the terms and conditions of the air service before they book a flight. These terms and conditions contain valuable information for travellers on the air carrier's policy regarding matters such as the carriage of persons with disabilities, how passengers would be compensated for denial of boarding on overbooked flights, what the air carrier will do for passengers should a flight be cancelled or delayed, and under what conditions a consumer could expect a refund or credit for a flight that a consumer cancelled or re-booked.

The proposed amendments would take the current consumer protection provision one step further by requiring all commercial air operators, both domestic and foreign carriers operating services in Canada, to prominently display their terms of carriage at their business offices and on any Internet site from which they sell those services. These proposed amendments would ensure that when consumers made travel arrangements, they would be informed of their rights and the obligations of the air carrier for flights offered.

In conclusion, the proposed amendments continue the Government of Canada's move to a liberalized and open air transportation system in Canada, one which balances the need to update statutory and regulatory instruments to protect and to respond to changes in the air industry marketplace with a responsibility to ensure that consumers are protected in a manner that is consistent with a fully deregulated market.

We firmly believe that these changes to the Canada Transportation Act are warranted, will give the Canadian Transportation Agency the ability to continue to serve the travelling public, and will ensure that Canada continues to have a viable competitive air industry in the years to come. With these proposed amendments, we are regulating the industry smartly to ensure that it is as open and fair as possible to both competitors and consumers.

As we debate the bill today, our time may be short in terms of the House, but we do want to say to the other parties that are very active on this issue in terms of the Standing Committee on Transport that we look forward to receiving their suggestions and possible amendments that could further improve the legislation. Shippers and receivers certainly have brought to our attention some of their concerns in terms of Bill C-44. On behalf of the minister and the department, I want to say that we recommend that those who want changes made should attempt to dialogue with us. We want to develop the best possible transportation system for the good of all Canadians.

Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca B.C.

Liberal

Keith Martin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, my question relates to the Pacific gateway strategy which is extremely important for the country and is very important for my province of British Columbia.

We have introduced about a $590 million investment to buttress up our transportation arteries and also moneys to improve security in our transportation arteries post 9/11. This ties in to the very important CAN-Trade initiative. That initiative will enable us to get the information from abroad for our private sector. One of the big challenges is how we link up market opportunities internationally and our private sector here, particularly for small and medium size businesses that are too small to have their own intelligence capabilities to find out what opportunities exist abroad.

CAN-Trade is an excellent initiative that will involve our embassies and high commissions and perhaps a living website. Our embassies and high commissions will be able to extract from the countries in which they are situated that information that is important in terms of ascertaining job and market opportunities abroad. That information would be posted on a living website which would enable our private sector to access that information in real time.

Given the fact that we have the CAN-Trade initiative as well as the important investment in the Pacific gateway strategy, I would like my hon. colleague to expand on this initiative that our government has put forth. It is critically important not just for a three to five year electoral cycle but to build our country for the next 20 to 30 years. We are not investing in a very short timeline. We are investing for the next 20 to 30 years to enable our country to evolve and capitalize on market opportunities abroad.

Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Charles Hubbard Liberal Miramichi, NB

Mr. Speaker, as members already know, we have made a major initiative with Bill C-68 to further expand the Pacific gateway. That is only one of a number of initiatives that our government is working on. We are a trading nation. If we are to succeed as a trading nation, we have to have a very successful method of transportation to get those goods and services from our own country to others. I would like to commend the member and other British Columbia members for their work on Bill C-68 and the Pacific gateway.

It is not only the province of British Columbia but all of our western provinces and into the central heartland of Canada are looking at this initiative. We have a similar program at least being talked about in terms of the east with an Atlantic gateway and the big gateway going from our central provinces down to the Midwest in the United States.

Transportation is needed to get services from place to place. The hon. member talked about other factors that are so important to us in terms of our Canadian economy. He talked about opportunities for Canadian businesses, not only opportunities to make sure that they do get markets, but more important, opportunities that they see which must be protected by our various Canadian departments.

I can assure the member that in terms of foreign affairs and our international trading relationships, we as a government want to encourage the development of opportunities in other areas around the world, whether they be in Asia, Europe, or more important recently, in South America. With that, our government and the various departments are certainly working toward those initiatives.

Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Batters Conservative Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport. We are fortunate enough to have him as a new member of the committee. I know he has been very interested in all that we have been doing at committee.

I would like to ask the parliamentary secretary two specific questions.

First, on Liberal air transport policy, I want to talk about airport rent and ask about the Liberal policy which has been tragic for airlines and for air passengers.

Pearson International Airport is the most expensive airport in the world at which to land a plane. It costs $13,000 to land a 747 at Pearson. I have travelled with the Standing Committee on Transport. Numerous witnesses appeared before us in Toronto and Montreal. Every single witness talked about the desperate need for rent reduction. In Toronto, the major hub in this country, there was very little relief. That costs air travellers money.

The government said that it made some changes. Smaller increases in the future do not equal rent reductions. People at Pearson and across Canada are begging for relief in airport rents. I would like the member to comment on why the government has failed the air industry and has failed to deliver the much needed rent relief to Pearson.

On another point, I want to ask the member about the FRCC deal which was recently completed for hopper cars. Our interest on this side of the House is twofold. We are fighting hard for farmers. I am fighting hard for the jobs of the CPR workers in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan who maintain those cars. Is the member opposite aware that this deal went through with no open tendering process? We still do not know the maintenance costs for these cars. The FRCC is not even talking about savings for producers which was the entire idea to begin with. That was the pitch, that it would save producers money. It is not even being discussed any longer.

I wonder if the parliamentary secretary could deal with those two points.

Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Charles Hubbard Liberal Miramichi, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure if time permits me to give a full answer to both very complex questions which the hon. member has posed.

I will attempt first to deal with Pearson Airport. We would have to go back to nearly 10 years ago when various airports in this country received through corporations the control of airports over a given period of time, usually 50 years. With that, these groups took over those airport facilities and began to operate them as non-profit corporations.

We in turn turned over to them some valuable real estate. We turned over facilities that had been paid for by the people of this country over a long period of time. Rents were developed and signed for. Agreements were made. Leases were determined. In good faith the Government of Canada signed leases with all the major airports across the nation.

Pearson International Airport began a very extensive period of redo, remake and buildup. In fact Pearson Development Corporation set up a program by which it borrowed nearly $6 billion to improve the airport facilities. In terms of the rents that were agreed upon, we reduced those rents recently, but Pearson still contends that it has a problem trying to meet its rental obligations.

If we look at the annual report of Pearson airport, the Toronto transport group, we will find that the rent paid is a very small portion of the overall business allocations. In fact, it is paying more than $350 million a year in interest on the money it borrowed. The government and I know our Toronto members tried to address this problem, but above all, it is a financial problem that Pearson airport has created for itself. We want to help that group because it is a great airport but it does have problems that are much greater than the rent that is being charged this past year of approximately $130 million.

In response to the member's second question, it was the farmers who took over the freight car allocation. For a long period of time they worked to take over those cars. It is our belief that they are working for farmers, with farmers, in the best interests of farmers. They will be given those 12,000 cars if they agree with the agreement. It will be in the best interests of the agricultural communities that supported their taking over the cars through the negotiations that we had with them over the past eight years or more.

Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Gouk Conservative Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start my speech by sending a special message to someone very special. I spoke in the House last week and made a member's statement. I thought that would be the final time I would address the House. It turns out that much to my surprise the government has brought forward one of the more useless bills it has on the order paper. It talked about bringing this forward a number of times. I do not know if common sense prevailed or what, but it never did. Now suddenly on the final day of the government, we find ourselves with Bill C-44.

I am pleased to hear the parliamentary secretary to the minister say that he would concentrate mainly on air transportation. That is the part I would like to speak to as well.

Other bills could have been brought forward. I heard one mentioned. One of the questions the parliamentary secretary received from a member of his party caused him to raise Bill C-68, the Pacific gateway bill. That is a prime example of a bill that should have come forward, along with several other bills in the House. The government introduced it a long time ago. We indicated very clearly to the government that we would support that bill. For some reason it chose not to bring it forward. It is probably so the Liberals can campaign in British Columbia and say that it offered the bill and the Conservative Party caused it to be defeated.

We did nothing of a kind. The Liberals had more than ample time to bring it forward. They never did, and instead we find ourselves discussing Bill C-44.

Let us talk about the genesis of the bill. When the new Minister of Transport came forward in Parliament, one of the things he said to our committee and to me personally, as the vice-chair of the committee, was he would reintroduce Bill C-26. Bill C-26 was the predecessor of Bill C-44. He did not say that he would take the intent of Bill C-26, redesign it and try to respond to the needs that had come up with all the problems in Bill C-26.

That was one of the dumber things I have heard him say. I have some measure of respect for the minister, and I temper that with the word “some” very strongly. However, bringing Bill C-26 forward and reintroducing it definitely has to go down as one of his more foolish moves. Bill C-26 was so bad that with a Liberal majority government it could not get the Liberals to vote for it. Why on earth would the government want to bring it forward in a minority?

Let us talk about some of the things that are wrong with the bill. As the parliamentary secretary addressed primarily the air industry, I will do the same, although I would be remiss if I did not put a few words in at the end of my speech on my old arch concerns about VIA Rail.

First, I would like to talk about airport rent. The parliamentary secretary to the minister said that the government wanted to help the air industry, that it recognized how important air transportation was. Those are funny words coming from a party that has done everything it can to destroy the air industry in the country.

Members of the Standing Committee on Transport have studied this both in Ottawa and across the country. We have listened to witnesses from every aspect and every sector of the air transportation industry. We made a series of recommendations by way of an interim report. One of the first recommendations was that the government immediately reduce airport rents by at least 75%. The government responded to that. It said that it already had taken care of this and that it would bring in a 60% reduction in the rent paid by the national airports over the term of their leases.

As my colleague said in questions and comments, after the parliamentary secretary spoke, that is not a rent reduction. That is a 60% reduction in the amount the government will increase it by in the future.

I have said that when I retire I will practise the three g s, namely garden, golf and grandson. My grandson is a year old. If he should happen to grow up, get into the air transport industry and even become the CEO of one of the airport authorities, then perhaps he may have something to be thankful for the government bringing in the 60% future reductions. That is provided the air transport sector survives under Liberal policy. We need rent reductions now.

Toronto airport was spoken very strongly about, and I would like to address a couple of the comments the minister has made in the past with regard to it. Many people have been crying loud and clear for reductions in the rent at Toronto airport in particular because of it having the highest landing fees in the world. The minister's response to that was twofold.

First, he said that if we did not like the fees there and if we did not like landing at Toronto airport, we could always land in Montreal. It is an interesting thing for the minister from Montreal to say. Maybe it will garner him a few votes there, except I hope the people in Montreal have the good sense, and I am sure they do, to recognize that if he is that out to lunch in terms of airport rents in Toronto, it will eventually affect them as well.

The second thing he said was that the rents were not all that big a deal, that they were only 14% of the budget of Toronto airport and that its debt load was 40%. Therefore, it is not the rent, it is the debt. Let us talk about that debt. Let us talk about why airports have debt and have spent a ton of money.

In Ottawa the terminal building that the airport authority took over was deplorable, as it was in Toronto and several other airports around the country. It financed $335 million to build the new terminal that was long overdue. It did not cost the government or taxpayers a dime. The reason it was needed was the government of the day and governments in the past ignored the infrastructure needs of our airport system.

Airports used to lose for the government over $200 million a year. That was while the government was not putting any money into it. That was just its operating cost, a $200 million loss. Now all of a sudden it is saying that they have to have fair value. If it cost $200 million to run them and they were run for free, they have received fair value.

Over and above that, by the parliamentary secretary's own words, $6 billion has been spent at the Toronto airport to build up the infrastructure that the government neglected. In fact, in the case of Toronto it was even worse. The Liberal government cancelled the newly signed Pearson contract that would have built a new terminal at no cost to the taxpayers whatsoever. It established, through legislation, that the contract holder would not be allowed to sue the government, and decreed how much it would get for damages by way of a settlement.

I listened to the Liberal rhetoric. I was green, I was new. I thought that if the government was saying it, it had to be true. I was shocked that it was going to give the airports as much money as it did. As the new transport critic, a member of Parliament and a member of the Standing Committee on Transport, I decided I would hit the books and study this so I could come up with arguments as to why they should not even get that much money, having done all the bad things the Liberals said they did.

Surprisingly, the more I studied this, the more I discovered it was not such a bad deal at all. In fact, it was a pretty good deal. It was such a good deal that I found a memo from the department asking how on earth the it manage to get such a great contract. The department could not believe it got such a good contract on the department's behalf, and that is what the government cancelled.

Pearson has languished ever since. As part of the settlement that it finally was forced to make, it ended up buying terminal 3 back from private sector operators. That is where a lot of this debt has come from, all generated by the government.

The government did another thing, which was done by the minister's predecessor, David Collenette. This is one example of the really stupid things that has been done in the name of helping airports. Mr. Collenette said that there were a lot of problems, that the government was really soaking them with the rent, that he knew it was a problem, especially with the sudden downturn in traffic, so what the government would do was not cut the rent but defer it. They would still have to pay it, but the government would allow them not to pay it for a little while. That did absolutely no good because they had to put the money aside and save it for the day when the government said it had to be paid.

If the government wants to do something short term right away, it should cancel the payment of those deferrals. It was something that was supposedly going to help, at least the members opposite certainly crowed about it, and yet it does not do any good.

Another thing that needs to be brought up is ACAP. One of our recommendations was there should be a flow through of moneys received from airports. We heard a lot of people saying that airport rent should be eliminated. I do not support that. It should be greatly reduced. There should be enough money coming to the ACAP, the airport capital assistance program, for smaller airports that are the feeders for these national airports. We put forward that ACAP should be increased and stabilized. Right now there is no guarantee that it will even continue, and it has not increased. The government said that it was adequately funded. That is a lot of nonsense. The ACAP has not increased since it started. With the cost of everything going up, simply not increasing it means there is less money available for the various projects.

Another thing we asked was that the government simplify the application process. We talked to operators of the smaller airports who told us that it cost as much as $10,000 to apply for ACAP funding. In the grand scheme of things, I know the former prime minister, Jean Chrétien, once said in the House, “what's a million?” A million dollars to the Liberal Party, with all the things it has done with taxpayer money, perhaps is not a tremendous amount of money. However, $10,000 for a little airport with a small budget is a lot of money, and that is only to apply for funding that it may not get. It is a long, drawn out process and it is absolutely unnecessary and unacceptable.

However, the government says that it is all right because they can add the cost of the application to the cost of the project and apply for the whole thing. First, they have to put the money up. Second, they have no guarantee that they will get that funding. The government could do a lot better that it has in this area.

We also asked that no rent should be paid on airports with less than two million passengers. There has to be some base from when they can then generate enough money to run their airports and then start to pay the rent. The government's response to that is it believes that airports with less than 2,000 passengers not paying rent would not satisfy the government's real property policy that states, “Where public assets are leased to private or commercial entities, the government should receive a fair return”.

We already have talked about fair return. Vancouver airport has undertaken a tremendous terminal expansion. It has built a second runway. It is continuing to expand its operation tremendously. It is known as one of the world authorities on the operation of an airport. What has it cost the government? What gas it cost taxpayers? Not one dime, but the government continues to use it as a cash cow to skim money from it.

Another of the recommendations was the government eliminate the air transport security fee and pay for the services through the consolidated revenues fund. The government says that the enhanced air travel security systems benefit principally and directly air travellers. In these circumstances the charge is fair and reasonable.

We have to ask ourselves what exactly is air security for? Is it for the security of the passengers or is this enhanced security that came as a direct result of 9/11 for the protection of the public at large against acts of terrorism?

The overwhelming damage and death toll in the case of 9/11 was not to the aircraft or the passengers on board, catastrophic though those events were. The damage and the largest loss of life was in the buildings. Therefore, we are doing this for the general safety of the public, and nowhere else in security does the general public not pay these security fees. They do not load this on any other sector. The government seems to think that there is so much money in the air transport sector that it can apply whatever charges it wants at any time at all.

Another thing we asked for was that customs services be provided at airports that can demonstrate they have regular transporter or international services. The government's response to that is charging fees for services has been the government's policy, dating back to 1989, and that it will have to continue with that. That is not true either. That is a very inconsistent statement because we do not charge any one sector. We do not charge the people who benefit when they cross the border. If that were the case, why are all the people who do not cross the border paying for those customs services at the border? The Liberals could charge a fee for everybody who comes across, if that is what they truly believe. Therefore, their policy is extremely inconsistent.

I want to get on to my favourite topic, VIA Rail, because this goes back right to my first days in Parliament and some of the things I found out about VIA.

I have a measure of respect for VIA and the service it provides, particularly in the Quebec-Windsor corridor. It is a necessary service. Essentially, it is an extension of commuter rail.

There are basically three types of service provided by railroad for passengers. One is commuter rail, in which I will include the Quebec-Windsor corridor and intercity transportation, but it is still essentially commuter rail and travel in a high density corridor. I think that it is quite justifiable to move people, to keep them off the highways, and to provide better access to travel. It is in a very restricted area.

We have it in Vancouver, not run by VIA Rail. We have a very good commuter service there. We have one in Toronto and we have one in Montreal. Then we have VIA Rail providing this intercity connection as well in the corridor.

We have remote communities. It is appropriate for the government to take a role in ensuring that remote communities are captured by way of differing types of transportation and have some service provided to them and ensure that service is maintained. The third thing is rail tourism. Rail tourism is for tourists getting a tourism experience.

We do not have passenger rail outside of those three items I mentioned. There is no such thing as regular passenger rail. For example, VIA Rail runs from Edmonton to Vancouver. Aircraft fly from Edmonton to Vancouver and the Greyhound bus goes from Edmonton to Vancouver. Only one of those three is subsidized, and that is VIA Rail. Even though it is subsidized, VIA Rail is the most expensive of those three methods of travel. It takes 17 times longer to go by VIA Rail than it does to go by aircraft. Obviously, people are not riding it simply for the transportation. They have to pay more and it takes infinitely longer to get there. The only reason they are on that train is for the rail experience, in other words, rail tourism, so why are we asking the taxpayers of Canada to subsidize tourism experiences?

We have a private sector company in British Columbia and Alberta that provides that amply well. It bought the service from VIA Rail. Travelling on the southern route and as well through to Jasper, VIA Rail used to carry about 5,000 passengers a year and lose money. The private sector company that took it over, and invested millions and millions of dollars in advertising, has won awards all over the world. It just recently won a very prestigious award by the International Tourism Association as one of the best rail experiences in the world. It carries over 80,000 passengers. Yet, we still have VIA Rail wanting to go back and compete with them and the government is looking at supporting VIA Rail on that. It is absolutely unacceptable.

VIA Rail only pays one-fifth of the trackage fees to CN and CP that companies like the Rocky Mountaineer have to pay because the government negotiated that and forced that on the freight rails. That is one-fifth, so they are getting that over and above the $500,000 a day in taxpayer subsidies.

I think the government is being very unfair to VIA Rail. VIA Rail should be allowed to operate commercially within the corridor, do a good job, and probably get a lot of kudos for doing so. I think it is absolutely wrong to subsidize a government operation to compete against the private sector.

I would like to go on about this and many other sectors and talk a lot more about VIA Rail as well, but I will end by saying, first, that I am very disappointed that the government chose to bring such an inappropriate bill forward when there are so many things that needed to be brought forward that we would have helped to pass had it done so. The Liberals have had the opportunity. We even gave them the opportunity to extend the Parliament to get those things through, if necessary, and they have turned it all down, perhaps so they can make a bunch of false campaign statements when they get out there.

The other thing I would like to say is that this will definitely be the last time that I will rise in the House as a member of Parliament. The government's life will end tonight and everyone will go on the campaign trail. I will not be returning. Perhaps some others, particularly on the other side, will not be returning either, but they think they are returning. I know I am not returning.

This is my last time, Mr. Speaker. To you and to the House, and to all members of the House in all parties, thank you for the experience. I have enjoyed it, these bills notwithstanding, because I know that good work can be done as well. Good work was certainly been done in the committee. That is what I was talking about today. We would have a better government if it would listen to and follow the reports of committees like the transport committee instead of coming up with bills like this.

Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Yukon Yukon

Liberal

Larry Bagnell LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

Mr. Speaker, I wish to congratulate the member for his time in the House. It will not be his last time to speak because he will get to answer my question.

The member tried to do a lot of scooting around and getting out of the fact that his party is forcing us into a Christmas and winter election. There are some things that the government has proposed that will not be done. The schedule should have been followed and everyone agreed all year to have an election in a couple of months.

The member mentioned ACAP. That has been a great program for our department, the airports program. The runway and the apron have been two projects at the Dawson City airport. The Old Crow airport, in the farthest northwest first nation community in the country, has also benefited from this program. This has been a tremendous program for my riding, along with all the other infrastructure funds, and has amounted to approximately $55 million in Yukon. Strategic infrastructure has rebuilt part of the Alaska Highway and put bridges on the Alaska Highway and the Whitehorse waterfront. Many Yukon municipalities are receiving projects.

I thank the member for mentioning this, so that I could outline the utility that these program have had for my riding. I am very happy with those programs. I certainly hope that the government continues with these programs.

Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Gouk Conservative Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for the two points that he raised. I most assuredly want to talk about the first as well as the second.

First, the member mentioned forcing the election. What a lot of crap. I know this hon. member and I guess I cannot say “Larry of the North”, so I will not, but we say that affectionately when working with the member on committee and at other times.

To say that the Conservatives are forcing the election is wrong. Bad government is forcing the election. Corruption is forcing the election. A loss of moral authority to government is forcing the election. If the government had not signed a deal with the devil as it were to keep it on life support, when it certainly did not deserve it, we would have ended its rule, its reign, and its dictatorship last spring.

The Liberals signed a deal with the NDP and I understand why the NDP did that. It has very much been the champion of social programs. On the surface the budget amendment looked as though it actually addressed social programs, but it did not. If we were to read the budget amendment, we would find that there are only 68 words that describe how $4.5 billion is going to be spent.

When we listen to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, he actually said in the House that it does not mean we are going to spend it. It is an enabling bill that would allow us to spend up to that amount. In actual fact, nobody is going to see any of that money.

It was good publicity for the NDP. I understand that. Unfortunately, that is part of the workings of this House. It was certainly a good deal for the Prime Minister. He said he would sign off on that. It really did not cost him anything and it kept the government going a bit longer.

Then the Liberals had other opportunities. They had an opportunity to accept a deal put forward by the NDP that would have prevented this election happening until after the new year. It would have given the government time to bring forward bills, such as Bill C-68, the Pacific gateway bill.

In fact, the government could have met with the House leaders and said, “Okay, which bills can everybody support? What is your priority? Let's move forward with the ones that people support, so we can get those things passed”. The Liberals would have found that a lot of bills would have passed, including Bill C-68.

People have to understand that it hits me right here every time I say something favourable about Bill C-68. I recall the $2 billion useless firearms registry under that same number.

As far as ACAP funding goes, the member who raised the question is absolutely right, it has been a good program. The funding is sliding downward rather than up. There is no stability in it. There is an incredible cost to apply for it, as I mentioned earlier on, and it is a crap shoot. The funding is applied for and nobody knows if they get the funding or not. Applications are not made frivolously.

When a runway is crumbling and a small airport is trying to service an entire region, it is critically important that these projects be funded. The government could do a lot better than it has done.

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12:50 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for his service here. I visited his constituency about a year ago and he was one of the people who welcomed me and some of my colleagues, and I appreciated that.

He sounds like he is keen to run in the next election given his answer to the parliamentary secretary. I think he is having a little difficulty separating himself from the job and the campaign.

It is hard to understand what difficulties he would have with respect to increased funding for post-secondary education, affordable housing, foreign aid, environmental measures, and worker protection. I am baffled by his response to the better balanced budget that the New Democrats put forward. I am baffled by the Conservatives response to the investments that were achieved for Canadians in that budget.

I have two questions for him about this legislation. Part of this legislation deals with an amendment to the Railway Safety Act. The amendment would set up a public complaints process for security officers employed by the railway. Concern has been expressed in the past about the lack of a public complaints process regarding security officials for railways. This process has been called for for many years. I wonder if he could comment on that.

The bill proposes a streamline approval process for the construction of new international bridges or tunnels. I often get nervous when I hear about streamlining around major development proposals, especially those in heavily populated areas or rural areas where there might be concern about land going out of agricultural production, or in neighbourhoods where a new bridge or tunnel could cause havoc for life in that neighbourhood. Certain neighbourhoods in Windsor are facing that kind of situation with respect to the proposal to improve the border crossing there.

I wonder if he could comment on those two aspects of the legislation.

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12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Gouk Conservative Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, as much as the Liberals have a real talent for writing bad legislation, even they cannot put nothing but bad in this legislation. These kinds of omnibus bills have always been a problem in the House. They contain a few good things, but there is always a lot of bad things. We simply cannot support those few good things and ignore all the bad stuff.

The bill touches on things like railway safety. Some areas that may have merit cannot be accepted over and above all the bad stuff in the bill. I am sure the hon. member is aware of that and is as troubled as I am with the omnibus nature of some of the government's bills.

Let me tell the member some of the reasons why we did not support his so-called better balanced budget. Nine words described foreign aid spending in his so-called better budget. Worker protection was not even included. The budget was not hard to read. It contained 68 words in total about how money was going to be spent. Sixty-eight words and not one word about worker protection in that budget. He does not need to raise that red herring.

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12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Batters Conservative Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for British Columbia Southern Interior who has been a fantastic member in the House, serving both his constituents and his caucus. He has also been a great source of help to me personally. As a fellow member of the Standing Committee on Transport, he has been a wealth of information. I wish him well in the three Gs: garden, golf and grandson. We will all miss the member for British Columbia Southern Interior.

As a new member of this 38th Parliament, I would like to ask the member a bit about the democratic deficit that we have heard about in this place. I question the teeth of the Standing Committee on Transport. Three reports were completely ignored by the Minister of Transport: the report on airport rent that the committee spent considerable time on; the report on air liberalization and open skies; and the complete disregard of the report on the farmer rail car coalition. Two days before the government falls we hear this deal is going ahead in complete contravention of all the recommendations made by the transport committee.

I would like the member's comment on the democratic deficit that he has seen in this Parliament. I will finish by again wishing him well in all his future endeavours.

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12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Gouk Conservative Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, in terms of the democratic deficit, as I said to reporters when I talked to a number of people about leaving this place, if this House had worked the way that the Standing Committee on Transport worked for the most part, we would have had a better House. For the most part on the transport committee we have put partisan issues aside, although they have to arise once in a while. We have listened to one another. We have considered one another's positions and we have accepted that. If this House would operate that way, more democratically, we would have a much better place.

Specifically with regard to the member's question on the hopper car issue, that was one of several recommendations from our committee. It was ignored by the government. The minister himself said that he would look very favourably at that, but actually the Minister of Finance is the scarecrow in all this. Every time we make a recommendation about airport rents, I have to go see you know who.

With hopper cars, maybe it is a coincidence but one of the principal activists in the Farmer Rail Car Coalition is now the campaign manager of the Minister of Finance. I wonder how he made out in this whole process and if that was his reward for trying to get king you know who re-elected.

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12:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I wish to add my voice and say congratulations to the member for British Columbia Southern Interior. He has been a fine member of Parliament and a workhorse on committee and on the transportation issue. Congratulations to him.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Longueuil--Pierre-Boucher.

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12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Caroline St-Hilaire Bloc Longueuil, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague who just spoke. We sat together on the Standing Committee on Transport, and I had the opportunity to get to know this gentleman who is dedicated to transportation services in Canada. I want to pay tribute to him, congratulate him and wish him good luck in the next chapter of his life.

I am pleased to take part in the debate on Bill C-44 to amend the Canada Transportation Act.

First, I want to take this opportunity to say how very disappointed I am that the federal government took eight long months before re-introducing this bill in the House. We have been waiting for over eight months, in fact, to debate this bill, the importance of which the Minister of Transport has acknowledged from the start. However, he waited until the very last day, a few hours before the government is set to lose a non-confidence vote, before re-introducing this bill, which is extremely important to Quebeckers and all Canadians.

The same goes for the aerospace policy and sending a formal notice to CN to sort out the Quebec Bridge problem. He waited until a few hours before the government loses a non-confidence motion.

Today, we are entitled to ask this Minister of Transport what are his interests and what is his motive? Since an election is imminent, the chances of this bill receiving rapid consideration are quite slim. It is quite outrageous that this bill, like its predecessor, Bill C-26, will die on the order paper a second time.

Once again, the entire process will have to start all over, and this will have serious repercussions on a number of transportation sectors and a number of communities. If the minister truly had this bill at heart, he would have introduced it well before today.

I would like to re-examine certain aspects of Bill C-44 which strike me as particularly worthy of mention. We are, of course, in favour of the principle of this bill, particularly since I personally wrote the Minister of Transport in November 2004 asking him to reintroduce this bill promptly. Had time allowed, however, we would have certainly proposed some amendments, because the Minister of Transport, like all his colleagues, does not tend to pay that much attention to the opposition, even if its recommendations are good ones.

Generally speaking, Bill C-44 addresses major transportation issues. Among its main points: increased efficiency in air and rail sectors, and enhanced processes for complaints and consumer protection. There is even some reference made to the concept of environmental protection.

There are three measures among the legislative provisions proposed in this bill that particularly attract my attention. They deal with air and rail sectors and concern airline advertising, noise relating to rail operations, and discontinuance of rail operations.

I feel that consumer protection is absolutely vital, and that the increase in open competition so much desired by the Minister of Transport must not in any way penalize the consumer, who is entitled to greater transparency.

In this connection, Bill C-44 will amend part II of the Transportation Act in relation to complaints processes, the advertising of prices for air services and the disclosure of terms and conditions of carriage.These new measures will provide for greater control over the sale of airline tickets, among other things by giving the agency jurisdiction over ticket sales advertising.

Licensees must in future display, in a prominent place at their business offices, a sign indicating that the rates for the service offered, including the terms and conditions of carriage, are available for inspection. This also applies to any services available on their Internet site. I should remind hon. members that consumer habits have changed a great deal with the advent of the Internet. I feel it is important to extend this obligation to Internet sites because a high percentage of services are now purchased in this way.

So the terms and conditions of carriage must be made available for inspection.

The Canadian Transportation Agency gets a new regulatory power allowing it to require through regulations that the prices for air services mentioned in any advertisement indicate the fees, duties and taxes being charged on behalf of others, so that the consumer is easily able to determine how much the service will cost.

Although this is a step in the right direction, we must ensure that the agency uses this power in the best interest of consumers and does so in a rigorous and proactive manner. Consumer groups have been calling for more transparent rates for a long time now. These new transparency measures will be as good for consumers as for the airlines, which will be able to engage in healthier competition.

Airline advertisements have often been publicly criticized. Last February, Option consommateurs, a Quebec-based consumer group, looked at over 20 ads published by three airlines including Air Canada, WestJet and CanJet. The conclusion was surprising, not to say scandalous. This type of advertising could be described as misrepresentation. The difference between the advertised rate and the true cost of the ticket was as high as 91%. The problem is with all the other fees added later including navigation fees, the air travellers security charge and so forth.

Another equally misleading practice is offering a good rate. Often that good rate is for a one way ticket. We know full well that in most cases people flying to their destination also have to come back. This is misleading and unacceptable. Airlines looking to build their clientele find it more useful to announce the lowest cost rather than the total including all the fees. Unfortunately, the consumer is duped into believing that he got a good deal.

There is another item I would like to address and that is the Air Travel Complaints Commissioner position, which was cut in the last budget by the Minister of Finance. In the same breath he announced that the Canadian Transportation Agency would be assuming responsibility for the complaints program. Bill C-44 no longer provides for the commissioner's position and incorporates those duties into the regular operations of the agency. In this specific case, there are pros and cons. On one hand it is good that the agency can require the transporter to compensate those affected by the non-application of the terms and conditions of carriage. This a step forward since the complaints commissioner could only make suggestions at the time.

There are, however, a few shortcomings. The Canadian Transportation Agency is no longer required to submit an annual report on complaints and their resolution. This report highlighted errors and shortcomings. The commissioner could also require the carriers to provide considerable information during the complaint process. The agency can longer do so. I find the weakening of the role of the transportation agency most regrettable. It loses some of its investigative powers and part of its visibility.

Last week, I met the Travellers Protection Initiative. This organization considers the measures put forward in the bill inadequate and too weak to protect airline passengers. It advocates strengthening the bill's provisions. Certainly no one has forgotten the Jetsgo saga of last March, as hundreds of travellers were left stranded when the airline abruptly ceased operations at the peak of the holiday period. Such a situation must never occur again. I spoke out against it at the time.

The Bloc Québécois clearly feels that the government must assume its responsibilities. It could, for example, propose a compensation fund be established to reimburse the cost of tickets when consumers purchase them directly from the airline, as is increasingly the case.

Clearly, there is work to be done on the bill in a number of respects.

In addition to the legislative amendments with respect to the airline sector, another very important aspect of Bill C-44 concerns rail transportation.

The aim of the proposed measures is to amend Part III of the Canada Transportation Act, creating a mechanism for dealing with complaints about noise and amending provisions dealing with the transfer and discontinuance of the operation of railway lines.

The Bloc has, for many years, been calling for legislative amendments to resolve the serious problems of noise faced by many communities. I refer to the harmful effects of noise from the construction or operation of the railway, including the movement of cars in marshalling yards.

In recent years, the public and the railways have often been at loggerheads. The public bothered by noise has no recourse but to complain directly to the railway concerned or initiate civil proceedings. No federal agency is currently empowered to intervene in such instances.

Hence the importance of legislation in this regard so that the railways feel some pressure and take the initiative to limit the disturbances caused by railway construction or operation.

I would remind the Minister of Transport that this is also a problem in his own back yard, because a class action against Canadian Pacific has just been authorized. A group of citizens in the Outremont area can no longer stand the disturbances caused by the CP switching yard. The court found that it was important to decide whether CP is imposing excessive inconvenience on its immediate neighbours in connection with its activities. It would, in my opinion, be simpler, and certainly far less costly, to settle this problem before the Canadian Transportation Agency.

These legislative amendments are a step in the right direction, but I have some amendments to propose, or rather ones I would have liked to propose. However, given the lax attitude of the Minister of Transport, who waited until the last minute to introduce this bill, I imagine we will be coming back to it in another session. Then we will have some amendments to propose in order to clarify the terminology on the rail companies' obligations.

I will try to ensure that the agency's jurisdiction will not be just over noise, but also over emissions or vibrations from rail cars. Now we are in the Kyoto protocol era, environmental issues are extremely important.

I know that rail transport is an excellent alternative to road transport and is key to economic development in Quebec. However, there must be a balance between such economic objectives and the environment, particularly in terms of respecting the public's quality of life and well-being.

The powers granted to the Canadian Transportation Agency are in no way prejudicial to the railway companies, particularly since the agency will now have the power to issue and publish guidelines, after consulting with interested parties, and to propose a mechanism for the collaborative resolution of noise complaints. Consequently, each party will know the other's limits. The purpose of this is to resolve such conflicts peacefully and without delay.

I am pleased to see that urban transit authorities will now be recognized. A section has been added under which a railway company wishing to sell a railway line shall first offer it to the municipal governments and urban transit authorities concerned. These new provisions are desirable and will provide better protection for the unique transportation network provided by urban railway corridors. I have always considered rail transport to be an excellent alternative to road transport. Such measures, therefore, should be encouraged.

Although we support Bill C-44 in principle, we are extremely disappointed. This is proof of the lax attitude of the Minister of Transport, who has done nothing to bring forward this bill or ensure that it becomes law.

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1:10 p.m.

Yukon Yukon

Liberal

Larry Bagnell LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for your wonderful service this term. I know that it has not been easy, but you are doing a great job.

The hon. member's excellent and positive speech covered a lot of very good areas. I hope the hon. member will support a major project for Canada in my riding. She has probably heard me mention the Alaska railway link, joining the railway that is already there with the great Canadian Railway Network, which would be a great expansion of railway in Canada. There is a study going on now to see whether it is feasible economically, socially and environmentally. Hopefully she would be in support of this, and for one of the reasons she mentioned, which is the environmental aspects of rail.

Also, we have a great railway that comes from the ocean in Alaska, from Skagway up to Whitehorse. It was an engineering feat at the time of the gold rush and is carrying a record number of tourists now. Part of the act would make sure that the railbed could not be dismantled without at least offering it to the city of Whitehorse, for instance, or other areas that could use that rail. It would be much more environmentally friendly for us to have tourists on that rail rather than in trucks or cars. I hope the member would support those types of initiatives.

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1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Caroline St-Hilaire Bloc Longueuil, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his comment or, rather, his question.

As I said in my speech, if there is one thing that is important to the Bloc Québécois it is the entire set of environmental issues. The railway is, of course, environmentally friendly.

However, I am somewhat disappointed in my colleague's speech. In fact, he should not be addressing his comment to me but to the government, which has done nothing, and especially to the Minister of Transport. The minister is quite adept at playing petty politics on the backs of Quebeckers. However, when it comes to drafting bills on transportation to implement concrete measures everywhere in Quebec and Canada to promote sustainable development, we are still waiting.

I tabled a bill to promote public transportation by giving a financial incentive to those who use it. The House passed it at second reading. However, the government could have sped up the process by passing it at third reading. That way Quebeckers and Canadians could now be benefiting from a tax deduction for using public transportation. However, nothing came of it.

At the last minute, of course, this government is quickly handing out some goodies, thinking it can buy votes in Quebec and Canada. I simply want to remind my colleague that Quebeckers and Canadians will not be had.

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1:10 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member's speech was interesting, particularly when she described the efficacy of the Canadian Transportation Agency in dealing with consumer concerns. She had concerns about whether this agency would exercise the new powers that are included in the act. She also said she thought that a major consumer organization said that the powers it had were too timid. That is a very serious concern for me.

We do need effective consumer protection. I have seen a number of Canadian agencies that are like the Canada Industrial Relations Board, which has proven completely ineffective in terms of serving telecommunications workers in my riding who were locked out by the TELUS corporation. They won quite a number of judgments at the CIRB regarding bargaining in bad faith, yet none of them were enforced.

I have heard complaints by the steelworkers about the lack of community input and representation on an agency such as the Canadian International Trade Tribunal.

We have heard concerns from members of ACTRA about the CRTC and its inability to stand up for Canadian content regulations and how important that is to workers in that industry.

Could the member comment further on how this agency might be made truly effective in dealing with the kinds of consumer issues that confront air travellers in Canada?

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1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Caroline St-Hilaire Bloc Longueuil, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's question is indeed a very pertinent one. I would have like to have had more time for debate, because I believe there are grounds for amendment or, at the very least, improvement to this bill.

Unfortunately, we are running out of time. The clock will strike midnight in five minutes. Perhaps I am suffering from acute paranoia, but I suspect that, when all is said and done, it may have suited the Minister of Transport to have us discuss this bill at the last minute.

I would have liked far more time in order to improve this bill and perhaps find some way to give more power to the agency. The consumer group Option consommateurs recognizes the existence of numerous shortcomings in both air and rail transport.

Today we can talk all we want, offer suggestions, express wishes, but we know very well that the government will fall within hours. Let us hope that the next Minister of Transport will be far more attuned to consumers and more respectful of Quebec's demands.

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1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague for her speech on transportation Bill C-44. I know how keen she was on getting this bill before the House so that we could dispose of it before the end of the business of this House.

My question is on the safety of people living close to rail lines. This was touched on briefly already. There are 12 cities or towns in my riding and 10 of these have rail lines running through them. There is, of course, the noise problem my colleague has referred to, but there is also the matter of vibrations and obstruction of roads into town. The municipal bylaws allow only two access roads to cross the tracks, but often, because of the length of the train, both of these are blocked by the same train, and it may sit there for many minutes, sometimes hours. This is totally inconceivable. The municipalities must take action.

Does my colleague believe there is anything in this bill to reassure the people of my riding that the agency could, in future, intervene to settle problems such as this?

Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Caroline St-Hilaire Bloc Longueuil, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Chambly—Borduas and pay tribute to him, because he is doing a very good job of defending his constituents. We have spent a lot of time talking about the problems with the railways, particularly in his riding.

The agency will have a little bit more power. However, we do have one criticism: this section does not restrict nuisances other than noise. Consequently, the agency will not be able to resolve complaints or mediate solutions relating to vibrations, for example, or fumes such as oils and gasoline.

As I have said all along, in principle, that would have been one of the amendments we would have made or suggested with regard to extending the agency's powers. I must remind the House that, in light of recommendations made at the request of stakeholders, the agency will still have a little bit more power than before. However, this does not change the fact that complaints about noise may wind up in court. As a result, this may discourage people from filing a complaint.

It is also important to remember that the minister could have shown leadership by sending a clear message to the railway companies. He could have told them that they needed to be good corporate citizens. Obviously, we want to give them a hand and increase rail transport but, at the same time, we want them to be good companies.

Citizens have rights. When anyone locates next to a yard or station, there may be some inconveniences. However, the railway company—be it CN, CP Rail or even VIA Rail—must be aware of the impact its activities have on the public. We wish that we could have improved the bill in committee or even in the House, in order to ensure greater respect for the well-being of people in Quebec and Canada.

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1:20 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is with some frustration today that I rise to speak to Bill C-44, an act to amend the Canada Transportation Act.

Members of the NDP caucus will be supporting referral to committee of Bill C-44, although, as I will enumerate throughout my presentation, we have serious concerns about certain aspects of this bill. Other aspects of the bill we are very much in favour of. The frustration stems from the fact that this bill has languished for 10 months. It was introduced in March 2005. We are at the end of November 2005 and lo and behold, surprise, surprise, suddenly the government is moving on this bill which should have been moved back in March. It is now 10 months later and that is absolutely appalling.

When we take into consideration the importance of the transportation infrastructure and transportation in Canada, the world's largest democracy and a country that is with geographic challenges that virtually no other country in the world has to face, our transportation infrastructure is absolutely vital. The fact that the government sat on this bill for 10 months before deciding to move it forward on the eve of a vote on a non-confidence motion is extremely frustrating to members of Parliament who are concerned about this issue.

It is not surprising because we have seen the Liberal government over the last two weeks try to make up for its neglect over the past 12 years. For 12 years there has been inaction in a whole variety of areas and now suddenly in the last two weeks we have seen the government cramming as though it were cramming for an exam, trying desperately to show some progress in areas that it has neglected. I will come back to transportation in a moment, but let us look at some of the other issues.

There is the question of child poverty. We have a record number of poor children in this country and the government has done nothing about that.

There is the issue of the decline in quality of jobs. We know that 60% of Canadian families have seen a decline in their income in real terms on the watch of the Liberal government. Over 60% of Canadian families are earning less in real terms than they were in 1989. The government has done virtually nothing to address that issue. In fact, in a very irresponsible way it has talked about this myth of prosperity, that somehow Canadians are doing extremely well.

We know that the wealthy in this country are doing better than ever. Corporate lawyers and CEOs have had substantial increases in their family incomes, but for most Canadian families it is harder and harder to make ends meet. The government refuses to recognize that, let alone do anything about it.

On the environment there was an announcement this week that greenhouse gas emissions, when the target was a reduction of 20%, have actually increased by 24%. In fact, Canada is one of the worst offenders in the industrialized world. The government has shown absolutely no inclination to seriously address the environmental issues that the member for Toronto—Danforth and the rest of the NDP caucus have been pushing in the House.

There is the issue of for profit health care, another area where the Liberal government has refused to take action. We see public health care dollars increasingly used to finance private for profit health care. We know in the United States that private for profit health care costs twice as much and leaves tens of millions of Americans out of any sort of substantive health care system.

This lack of action on transportation is similar to the lack of action that I have mentioned in a whole host of other areas. That is why in the New Democratic Party corner of the House, along with our colleagues from the Bloc Québécois and the Conservative Party, the frustration with the government has reached new highs.

Let us get back to the issue of Bill C-44. I would like to briefly enumerate the key amendments to the Canada Transportation Act that were tabled in Parliament, as I mentioned, last March and which we are finally discussing today on the eve of a non-confidence vote.

The bill includes a new, modernized and simplified national transportation policy statement; new provisions addressing the approval and regulation of international bridges and tunnels; a new provision authorizing the Canadian Transportation Agency, on the recommendation of the minister, to regulate greater transparency in the advertisement of air fares, and I will come back to that in a moment; improvements to and expansion of the recourses available to rail shippers while maintaining existing running rights; improvements to the policy framework for publicly funded passenger rail services; a public interest review process for mergers and acquisitions of all federally regulated transportation services; a provision allowing the Canadian Transportation Agency to address railway noise complaints, and I will come back to that as it is one aspect of the bill that we strongly support; legislative framework to consolidate the current powers of VIA Rail Canada; a reduction in the number of members of the Canadian Transportation Agency; and the integration of the air travel complaints function into its normal business. There are other clauses. This bill is fairly lengthy with 60 pages and has a variety of amendments.

I would like to touch on the key areas. I will start with the issue of the modernized and simplified national transportation policy statement. Fundamentally, this is an area of key neglect by the Liberal government. We heard the announcement again in the cramming that we have seen over the last two weeks on the Pacific gateway initiative in British Columbia for transportation infrastructure. The fact is that the infrastructure issue has not been addressed in over a decade. We have seen systematic penny-wise and pound foolish policies. There have been cuts to the kind of capital funding that is needed to allow our infrastructure to keep current with expanding demand. With the transportation infrastructure, it is fundamentally important.

In British Columbia, because we have fallen behind, $2.5 billion would be needed right now for the transportation infrastructure. We saw with the Pacific gateway that about $190 million has been allocated. A big chunk of that is actually going to support the operations of another Liberal appointed board that will be set up to oversee that structure. Three projects have been approved out of that $190 million in total moneys, which falls appallingly short of the actual needs, which as I mentioned are $2.5 billion.

Some $191 million has been allocated for three projects: one in Saskatchewan, one in Delta and one in Port Coquitlam in British Columbia. Another $400 million has been set aside, basically awaiting the election, one would imagine. The money has not been allocated. It is money that will be part of some photo opportunity, I would imagine, over the course of the next few weeks. The reality is that we are falling so phenomenally short of what is needed to address the critical infrastructure needs in British Columbia. I mention that because this is just one example of the neglect we have seen in our transportation infrastructure over the course of the Liberal government.

In my own riding of Burnaby--New Westminster, we have seen with Fraser port that the Fraser Port Authority is being obliged to spend approximately $3 million a year to fund dredging of the Fraser River, when that money should be going toward maintaining and enhancing the capital infrastructure that is needed in transportation with the Fraser Port Authority. There is $3.1 million going to that ongoing dredging maintenance because the dredging is not being funded through the Ministry of Transport. What is happening is that Fraser port is not able to keep up with the capital funding to provide the infrastructure to meet its growing needs and to provide for the important maintenance of the existing infrastructure. It is another example of neglect.

A final example I would like to mention when we talk about the national transportation policy statement is the lack of clarity around the funding for the Toronto Port Authority. I have raised in the House before that $35 million was allocated to the Toronto Port Authority for a bridge that was never built. For all intents and purposes, this is money that is a grant to the Toronto Port Authority when we know that the Canada Marine Act prohibits such a grant. For weeks and weeks we have been demanding answers. For months there have been access to information requests made. The government refuses to come clean on what happened to that $35 million, where it went, to whom it was paid and what the justification was.

I raise all that by way of background. They are three key examples of why the issue of a policy statement is beyond the greater issue which is the Liberal government's neglect of transportation. That is undeniable, British Columbia being a key case where $2.5 billion is needed and $191 million has been granted. That is the first key amendment I wanted to address.

The second is the issue around the approval and regulation of international bridges and tunnels. As I mentioned at the outset, we in the NDP will be supporting sending the bill to committee to get the important amendments. Again we are frustrated by the fact that we have been waiting 10 months for the bill to come forward. It could have easily gone through. We could have applied those amendments and we could be speaking at third reading and passing the bill today, but because of the delay by the government, we are not doing that.

We have concerns about the issue of the approval of regulation on international bridges and tunnels. My colleague the member for Windsor West will be speaking to that very issue in the House later this afternoon.

The third issue I would like to address is that of creating transparency on airfares. This is something that is addressed to a certain extent in Bill C-44, the issue of creating transparency and having an air travel complaints function, but it falls far short of what is actually needed.

I would like to mention some of the concerns that have been raised by the organizations that are involved in the travellers' protection initiative. I would like to reiterate what one of the members of the travellers' protection initiative, the president and CEO of the Travel Industry Council of Ontario, Michael Pepper, said.

The travellers' protection initiative is a Canada-wide alliance of consumer protection and industry groups formed to demand greater federal government protection for Canadian airline passengers. It was launched in June of this year. It is comprised of the Travel Industry Council of Ontario, the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and Quebec-based Option consommateurs. There are also a wide variety of other groups representing consumers from across Canada that are part of the travellers' protection initiative.

They are calling on the federal government to address their six point air travel consumer reform. Very clearly, Bill C-44 does not address their concerns. They are calling for the following elements: greater financial monitoring and disclosure to the public; protection of advanced ticket sales; full price disclosure in all advertising media; reinstatement and strengthening of the position of air complaints commissioner; a national travellers' compensation fund for when airlines fail.

Jetsgo and Canada 3000 are two recent examples where the fact that this is not in place has meant real hardship for consumers. Some people have lost everything. In the case of Jetsgo, last spring people found themselves completely out of pocket for the tickets that they had purchased because there is no protection for travellers. The issue of a national travellers' compensation fund is fundamental to addressing the important issues that Bill C-44 touches on, but it does not address those issues adequately.

Finally, the travellers' protection initiative calls for a program within Transport Canada to collect and publish information on airline service performance in order to better inform consumers about their choices and promote fair competition among airlines.

If the government had chosen to bring forward Bill C-44 last spring, we would have already been able to push those amendments through, because the NDP strongly supports the travellers' protection initiative, and today we would be debating a bill that would be better and clearly more in the public interest.

I mentioned earlier the issue around the noise provisions for dealing with noise complaints in Bill C-44. This is an element that we strongly support. There is no existing noise complaint mechanism. In fact, in my riding of Burnaby--New Westminster, in the Westminster Quay neighbourhood, this is a key concern. People have no effective way of dealing with the issue of railway noise complaints. In the case of the Westminster Quay, this affects many thousands of residents. So, this is one aspect of the bill that is good. It could be improved through investigation at committee. But, again, because of the time when this is coming forward, we are looking at a bill that, through the 10 month neglect with Bill C-44, obviously will not go through the required hoops for adoption.

Finally, there are a couple of other issues. There is the issue of VIA Rail. We strongly support enhancing our national rail passenger service. VIA Rail is a fundamental part of that. We saw with the Conservative cutbacks that the Liberals have basically kept those in place. We continue to have parts of the VIA Rail network that no longer exist. A very important aspect of that is the rail line from Winnipeg, the southern line through to Vancouver. Here we have an issue of the neglect of VIA Rail that would finally start to be addressed. However, given the 10 months of waiting for Bill C-44 to finally be introduced by the government, we will not be able to adequately deal with that section.

Then there are the amendments with regard to a public interest review process for mergers and acquisitions that are part of the bill.

We know full well how effective the government is when it talks about public interest review. We saw an example of that last week with Terasen. Here is a case where a key public utility in British Columbia is being acquired by a George Bush bagman. Investment Canada should have been doing the due diligence on that, do a public interest review on the acquisition. At a time when the government has done nothing about softwood, very clearly, this is an area where we would have some leverage with the Bush administration.

What happened? The Investment Act in theory allows for that due diligence. It allows for public hearings because thousands of British Columbians expressed real concern about this acquisition and were opposed to it. The environmental and safety record for Kinder Morgan is appalling, in some cases involving deaths, environmental fines and repeated safety violations and environmental violations. The government simply refused to look at the public interest, refused to listen to British Columbians, and simply refused to do its work.

Yes, the amendments call for some provision for a public interest review process for mergers and acquisitions in the transportation sector. However, given the lack of due diligence overall of the government, it is very clear to us that regardless of whether or not there was some framework put into place, the government refined a rubber-stamp process that would override the public interest. So we have some skepticism about that.

Finally, I am very dismayed to see the lack of attention paid to people with disabilities in the amendments in Bill C-44.

We have a transportation infrastructure that is going backwards. The Council of Canadians with Disabilities have left the Ministry of Transport's advisory board in complete frustration because the government has done nothing to enhance accessibility in air transport and rail transport. We are moving backwards when other countries are moving forwards. It is a national shame that the government has done nothing about that.

This is another area where we would be attacking this issue in committee had the government not chosen to sit on this legislation for 10 months. We would be supporting this referral to committee. We would be bringing forward, as is our role in this Parliament, intelligent and effective ways of improving the bill. However, the government has sat on this for 10 months. Also, there is a non-confidence vote tonight.

We know that we will have to look at this in the next Parliament and that is shameful because it did not have to be this way. The government should have acted last month.