Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. As hon. members could see by the exchange I had with my Liberal colleague earlier, the Bloc Québécois was in favour of Bill C-44, which preceded Bill C-11.
Unfortunately, Bill C-44 did not make it through the legislative process because of the infighting within the Liberal family, namely whether VIA Fast would see the light of day or not. The leadership of the Liberal Party changed and VIA Fast did not see the light of day. In the meantime, an entire section of Bill C-44 was devoted to making VIA Rail an independent corporation that would be able to ensure its own development. Today, once again, the railway sector is stagnating.
However, Bill C-44 was divided into a number of bills, including Bill C-11, which is now before us. Since the beginning, the Bloc Québécois has been very interested in the development of this bill for the simple reason that it includes several sections—I am not saying they are big sections, just that they are very important—on the problems that some of the population might experience, the noise problem in the rail road sector, among others.
The purpose of Bill C-11 is to help all citizens, all Quebeckers, who are experiencing problems with noise. There are some major problems with noise, such as the noise generated by the big railroad yards, the Moreau yard in Hochelaga, the Joffre yard in Lévis—Bellechasse, formerly Charny, the Farnham yard in Brome—Missisquoi and the Pointe-Saint-Charles yard in Jeanne-Le Ber in Montreal's east end.
With the new technology, jobs have been lost. Employees have simply been replaced by remote controlled technology. This causes an infernal noise when the cars are being connected to the locomotives or to other cars.
With the arrival of this technology, in the 1990s, jobs were cut to save money. What was once done by hand, more intelligently and less noisily, was replaced by technology, and no one has yet found a solution to the problem of remote linking. It takes a lot of momentum to join cars together. People living near marshalling yards have to put up with a terrific amount of noise, not to mention locomotives running practically day and night, even during cold weather.
All this causes problems for the people living near marshalling yards, in addition to all the other noise and vibration problems.
I would like to read clause 95.1 of the bill:
When constructing or operating a railway, a railway company must cause as little noise and vibration as possible—
Previously, the bill mentioned noise only, and the Bloc Québécois worked very hard to have the word “vibration” included. Now, the bill requires that companies cause as little noise and vibration as possible. We hope that the bill will be adopted.
I will continue to read from clause 95.1:
—taking into account
(a) its obligations under sections 113 and 114, if applicable;
(b) its operational requirements;
(c) the area where the construction or operation takes place; and
(d) the potential impact on persons residing in properties adjacent to the railway.
The bill amends the act by adding provisions that state that companies operating a railway must cause as little noise and vibration as possible and must take into account the impact on persons residing in properties adjacent to the railway.
For the first time, the Transportation Act is being amended to enable the agency, under clause 95.2, to issue and publish guidelines and receive complaints. This was not allowed previously. Courts ruled that even though the Transportation Agency had wanted to get involved in the complaint process, it did not have the authority to do so. In one case in Ontario, the courts told the agency that it did not have the authority to intervene and that even though it issued recommendations and acted as a mediator, it could not force the company to comply with those recommendations.
That is where the law stood. Obviously this prompted a lot of people who objected to join together and organize to express their opposition. When they became aware of the judgment of the Ontario court, they decided that there was no point and they were spending their money for nothing.
All of these communities got together and wanted to challenge this, and tried to get the railway companies to change, in particular, as I said earlier, the Moreau switching yard, the Joffre yard in Lévis—Bellechasse, the Farnham yard in the riding of Brome—Missisquoi and the Pointe-Saint-Charles yard in the riding of Jeanne-Le Ber.
The people who live near those yards decided to step back and try to reach an amicable agreement. All the Transportation Agency did was arrange a meeting. They met with representatives of the railway companies. The citizens' groups tried to explain their problems to the companies, and in some cases, some of the companies adopted some solutions.
However, when it came to noise, when the noise was a problem for people, the companies came up with all sorts of reasons. When it cost the company a bit too much, they did nothing. And if they were presented with good recommendations, they did not apply them or did not follow them, even though, in some cases, agreements had been made between the company and the citizens' groups.
I myself have met with members of the public, with citizens' groups, and even with representatives of the company, in particular in Hochelaga, the riding next to the Moreau yard. Even though we showed good faith, when we took part in that meeting—my colleague from Hochelaga was there—nothing came of it.
In any event, before the railway company representatives left the meeting, they said that the complaints merited consideration, but they never adopted any solution after that.
This is what people want and what this bill provides that is new: that from now on, the Transportation Agency can receive complaints and make and publish recommendations, and compel the companies to abide by them.
Obviously, it must be understood that we would have wanted more from this bill. It refers only to noise and vibration; it says nothing at all about environmental damage or the other requests that a number of my colleagues had made to me. Even though the railway companies make huge profits, they are not always inclined to comply with environmental standards, to pick up their garbage or what have you. As well, when they lay new tracks, they often leave all the wood lying there all along the rail line. They are in no hurry to clean up.
We were very aware of that and we wanted to propose some amendments. Yet the government went ahead and tabled its noise bill. Since we are on the subject today, we have to be very careful when we propose amendments: amendments that change the spirit of the bill are not allowed. As such, our amendments were automatically dismissed by the legislator or counsel representing legislative services here in Parliament.
Our colleagues submitted good changes and good amendments that they would have liked to have seen reflected in the act, but their amendments were found to be unacceptable by counsel for the legislators here in Parliament.
It is not that we did not try; it is that the law did not let us. Clearly, the government only wanted to address noise. Consequently, we could not move on other problem areas. We managed to include vibrations because they can be considered a noise problem.
As to the other interesting and intelligent amendments proposed by members of the Bloc Québécois and others, we could not move them through; the legislator found them to be unacceptable because they would have altered the spirit of the bill.
This bill includes other provisions concerning air travel complaints. There is to be a complaints commissioner who will address these issues directly.
As I am sure hon. members are all too aware, there have been a lot of complaints about Air Canada. So the complaints commissioner's office will also include a section to address complaints from citizens who were not served in their official language when using Air Canada services or who have experienced other problems related to airlines.
This will make it easier to file a complaint, and, once again, the office of the commissioner will have the power to intervene. We hope that this bill will be adopted swiftly.