House of Commons Hansard #95 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was rail.

Topics

Government Response to PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's responses to six petitions.

Environment and Sustainable DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the first report of the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development in relation to its statutory review of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

Pursuant to Standing Order 109, the committee requests that the government table a comprehensive response to this report.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the second report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food.

I am very pleased to report that the committee has considered the votes of the main estimates 2012-13 under agriculture and agri-food and reports the same.

PovertyPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Ron Cannan Conservative Kelowna—Lake Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to table a couple of petitions on behalf of some constituents.

The first petition is with regard to Bill C-233, An Act to eliminate poverty in Canada.

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors ActPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Ron Cannan Conservative Kelowna—Lake Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, the second petition pertains to something which members on all sides of the House have been supportive of, my colleague's Bill C-311, to modernize the archaic 1928 Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act.

We want to free our grapes and let the wine flow across the provincial borders, so we can have a much more enjoyable Canada from coast to coast to coast.

Electro-Motive DieselPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions. The first is from the community of London and former workers of Electro-Motive Diesel.

The petitioners want the Parliament of Canada to know that Caterpillar illegally removed production equipment from EMD in London against the collective agreement. It forced a lockout on December 30, 2011, and demanded that the workers take a reduction in wages and benefits in excess of 50%, and accept a reduced and insecure pension plan. All of this is despite the fact that these workers had made Electro-Motive Diesel a very profitable company. In fact, productivity had increased by 20%, and the profits were up in the billions of dollars over last year.

The petitioners are requesting that the Parliament of Canada investigate the conditions of the sale of Electro-Motive Diesel to Caterpillar, and to immediately enforce any and all appropriate penalties should there be violations under the Investment Canada Act.

I might add that in light of the recent debate in the House about the need to strengthen the Investment Canada Act, it is most appropriate that the petitioners are calling on the government to make improvements to the Investment Canada Act so that the travesty which happened to the EMD workers, their families and the London community does not happen again.

PensionsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is great concern about threatened changes to the old age security program. The petitioners regard this as a direct attack on the poorest seniors who rely on that money for daily living expenses.

In February of this year, the official opposition moved a motion which called on the House to reject the proposal by the Prime Minister to increase the eligibility age for old age security and also called on the government to take the necessary measures to eliminate poverty among seniors.

Therefore, the petitioners are calling upon Parliament to maintain funding for the OAS and make the requisite investment in the guaranteed income supplement to lift every senior out of poverty.

Suicide PreventionPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present a number of petitions signed by people from Ontario and Alberta pointing out that suicide kills, on average, 10 Canadians each and every day, which means there are almost 4,000 preventable deaths each year. The petitioners also point out that suicide is not only a mental health issue but it is also a public health issue.

Therefore, the petitioners are calling on Parliament to adopt measures to recognize suicide as a public health issue, provide guidelines for suicide prevention, promote collaboration and knowledge exchange regarding suicide, and promote evidence-based solutions to prevent suicide and its aftermath, and to define best practices for the prevention of suicide.

The EnvironmentPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise this morning to present two petitions. The first is entirely from constituents in my riding of Saanich—Gulf Islands, from Mayne Island, Pender Island, Victoria and North Saanich.

The constituents petition the House to take action on the climate crisis, specifically to put in place real plans to meet targets set by the House in votes in the 40th Parliament to reduce greenhouse gases by 25% against 1990 levels by 2020, and by 80% against 1990 levels by 2050. We are lagging woefully behind in having any plans at all.

Mr. Speaker, the second petition deals with the proposed Enbridge project across northern British Columbia leading to supertankers along the coastline of British Columbia. The petition is signed by residents of Grande Prairie and Calgary, Alberta, residents of Whistler and Vancouver, British Columbia, and residents of Ottawa.

The petitioners beseech the government to cease and desist from acting as the public relations arm of industry and to await the fulfillment of environmental assessment reviews before taking a position on the project.

Human RightsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to submit petitions on behalf of petitioners in the greater Toronto area on the issue of human rights in Sri Lanka.

The petitioners point out that the report of the United Nations Secretary-General's panel of experts on accountability in Sri Lanka has found credible allegations which, if proven, would indicate that war crimes and crimes against humanity took place in the last days of the war. The petitioners indicate that the establishment of an independent, impartial, transnational justice mechanism to investigate the allegations is necessary. They also indicate that it is a duty under international law to address the violations of international humanitarian human rights. They also indicate that Canada has been recognized internationally as a champion of human rights and justice.

The petitioners call upon the Government of Canada to urge the United Nations to immediately establish an independent, international and impartial mechanism to ensure truth, accountability and justice in Sri Lanka.

Republic of the Fiji IslandsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I continue to receive many petitions from thousands of Canadians across the country pointing out that Canada has closed its high commission serving the Republic of the Fiji Islands. They point out that Fiji is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, that all immigration business and other matters between Canada and Fiji must now be handled through the Canadian High Commission in Sydney, Australia. The petitioners point out that this causes inordinate delays and inefficient service for tourists, and with respect to visa business and immigration issues for Canadian and Fijian citizens. The petitioners point out that the United States, Australia, New Zealand, China and India all have embassies or high commissions in Fiji.

There are over 100,000 Canadians of Fijian descent who travel very extensively between Canada and Fiji. The petitioners therefore request that the government reopen the high commission in Fiji in order to provide the kind of consular services that these Canadians both need and deserve.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, if Questions Nos. 412 and 415 could be made orders for return, these returns would be tabled immediately.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Question No. 412Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Hoang Mai NDP Brossard—La Prairie, QC

With regard to the Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA) responses to the provisions of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regarding the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR): (a) according to the government’s analysis, do the IRS provisions comply with the provisions of the Convention Between Canada and the United States of America With Respect to Taxes on Income and on Capital and its amending Protocol (2007); (b) are there Canadian exemptions to FBAR; (c) has Canada negotiated the FBAR provisions with United States Treasury Officials or the IRS, (i) at what time was the government made aware of these provisions, (ii) how long did it take for Canada to respond to the changes made by the IRS and the United States Treasury; (d) how will the government ensure that the CRA does not act on behalf of the IRS to collect revenues and penalties; (e) has Canada informed dual citizens about their tax obligations resulting from FBAR; (f) what was the number of exchanges of information between Canada and the United States of America this year and during the past ten years regarding FBAR, (i) has the CRA set internal deadlines to be able to respond to exchange of information requests in a timely manner, (ii) will Canada work to improve bilateral cooperation on this issue, (iii) has there been an increase of exchange of information requests at the CRA due to FBAR; (g) will the government lose revenue as a result of the implementation of FBAR; (h) what are the cost implications emanating from FBAR (i) for the government, (ii) for the CRA, (iii) for Canadian banks, (iv) who will absorb these costs, (v) are there other types of non-financial costs such as efficiency or fairness reductions; (i) how many complaints has the CRA received regarding FBAR or related vexatious inquiries by the IRS, (i) what are the main complaints, (ii) what has the CRA done concerning these complaints, (iii) what department at the CRA is in charge of dealing with complaints of this nature, (iv) will the CRA cut Full-Time Equivalents from that department or reduce its funding, (v) has the office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman looked into the matter; (j) will FBAR prevent double taxation of pre-migration gain; (k) has there been an increase in arbitration cases due to active procedures by the IRS, (i) what departments are most affected, (ii) has the CRA cut Full-Time Equivalents from each of these affected departments or reduced their funding; (l) will FBAR affect different saving vehicles such as, but not limited to, (i) Registered Retirement Savings Plans, (ii) Registered Education Savings Plans, (iii) Registered Disability Savings Plans, (iv) Tax-Free Savings Accounts; and (m) how many Canadian-American dual citizens are affected by FBAR and does Canada have contact information for the dual citizens affected by FBAR?

(Return tabled)

Question No. 415Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

With regard to Natural Resources Canada’s ecoENERGY program: (a) what is the total amount spent, broken down by year and province, since the program’s first year of operation up to and including the current fiscal year on (i) ecoENERGY Retrofit – Homes, (ii) ecoENERGY Efficiency, (iii) marine renewable energy enabling measures, (iv) the clean energy policy group, (v) ecoENERGY for biofuels, (vi) ecoENERGY Innovation Initiative; (b) how many individuals or organizations have received grants for each of the programs listed in (a), since the first year of operation up to and including the current fiscal year, broken down by year and province, (i) what is the average amount of the grants awarded, (ii) how many applications were submitted and how many rejected, (iii) what was identified as an “acceptable” turnaround time for the receipt of grant funding, (iv) how many approved grants were processed beyond a “reasonable” turnaround time; and (c) other than the programs listed in (a), which programs to combat climate change and promote energy efficiency are currently funded by Natural Resources Canada, and what is the total amount spent on each of these programs?

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Private Members' BusinessRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The Chair would like to take a moment to provide some information to the House regarding the management of private members' business.

As members know, after the order of precedence is replenished, the Chair reviews the new items so as to alert the House to bills which at first glance appear to impinge on the financial prerogative of the Crown. This allows members the opportunity to intervene in a timely fashion to present their views about the need for those bills to be accompanied by a royal recommendation.

Accordingly, following the February 16, 2012 replenishment of the order of precedence with 15 new items, I wish to inform the House that there is one bill that gives the Chair some concern as to the spending provisions it contemplates. It is Bill C-383, An Act to amend the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act and the International River Improvements Act, standing in the name of the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound.

I would encourage hon. members who would like to make arguments regarding the need for a royal recommendation for this bill, or any other bills now on the order of precedence, to do so at an early opportunity.

I thank hon. members for their attention.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean Québec

Conservative

Denis Lebel ConservativeMinister of Transport

moved that Bill S-4, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to the Canada Transportation Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to present to you today for second reading Bill S-4, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to the Canada Transportation Act.

I believe this is the first time I have ever had the honour of presenting a bill that is as finely crafted, broadly applauded and widely supported as Bill S-4.

This legislation has been in development for more than three years, with constant consultation and input from all levels of government, industry and labour stakeholders. It has also been commented on by witnesses, dissected clause by clause by standing committees on two separate occasions, and approved unanimously by all parties both times.

Clearly, the debate is over. It is now time to pass this important bill as quickly as possible to ensure the safety of Canadians.

Bill S-4 is clearly a progressive and forward-looking bill, and the amendments it contains will mean better safety for Canadians and Canadian communities, better protection for our fragile environment, and a stronger Canadian rail industry in a stronger national economy.

All of these things are priorities for our government, and I believe that they are priorities for all members in the House.

There is nothing more important than the safety and prosperity of Canadians.

As many members may know, the bill has quite a bit of history. For many years, the safety of Canada's federal railways was regulated under the Railway Act, which originated at the turn of the century when Canada's railway system was rapidly expanding. The Railway Act was designed for an older era. At that time, much of the national rail system was under construction to open up new territories to encourage settlement.

In 1989, the Railway Act was replaced by the Railway Safety Act, which was designed to achieve the objectives of the national transportation policy relating to the safety of railway operations and to address the many changes that had taken place in the rail transportation industry in recent years. The Railway Safety Act gave direct jurisdiction over safety matters to the Minister of Transport, to be administered by Transport Canada where the responsibility for other federally regulated modes of transportation resides.

Following a review of the Railway Safety Act in 1994, the act was amended in 1999 to further improve the legislation and to make the railway system even safer. Those amendments were designed to fully modernize the legislative and regulatory framework of Canada's rail transportation system. They were also designed to make railway companies more responsible for managing their operations safely and to give the general public and interested parties a greater say on issues of railway safety.

These changes were commendable, but there was a problem. A number of high-profile train derailments in 2005 and 2006 across the country—in Alberta, British Columbia, Quebec and in other provinces—resulted in fatalities, serious injuries, significant environmental damage and negative economic impacts for railways and communities.

These tragic accidents caused concern for the public and the government and focused national attention on rail safety. They also provided the impetus, in part, for the Minister of Transport to launch a full review of the Railway Safety Act in 2007. The objective of the review was to identify possible gaps in the act and to make recommendations to further strengthen the regulatory regime.

The seriousness of those derailments also provided the incentive for the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to begin its own railway safety study. The Railway Safety Act review was led by an independent panel of experts who commissioned research and held extensive public consultations across the country. Interest in the consultations was high and all key stakeholders participated, including railway companies and associations, labour organizations, national associations, other levels of government, municipalities and the public.

The panel's final report, “Stronger Ties: A Shared Commitment to Railway Safety”, was tabled in the House by the Minister of Transport in March 2008. In the report, the panellists noted that although the Railway Safety Act and its principles are fundamentally sound, more work is needed and a number of legislative improvements are required. The report contained 56 recommendations to improve railway safety in Canada.

The standing committee, which also conducted extensive stakeholder consultations, accepted the panel's recommendations and tabled its own report in the House in May 2008. The committee's report also made 14 recommendations, many of which built on those that came from the Railway Safety Act review.

The authors of both reports identified the main areas that required improvement and recommended increasing Transport Canada's resources in order to increase its ability to monitor compliance and enforce the legislation and take new rail safety initiatives.

Transport Canada agrees with the recommendations made in both reports and has taken steps to implement them through a variety of government-industry-union initiatives and through these proposed legislative amendments to the Railway Safety Act, which are required to address key recommendations and enable many safety initiatives.

In fact, Transport Canada took action to address these concerns almost immediately after receiving them.

In March 2008, following the publication of the report on the review of the Railway Safety Act, we established the Advisory Council on Railway Safety in order to get the process of consultation started again and to consider future directions in railway safety, the development of rules, regulation, policies and other matters of concern. The advisory council is made up of representatives of the main stakeholder groups, including Transport Canada, railway companies such as CN, CP and VIA, short line and commuter rail companies, the Railway Association of Canada, shippers, suppliers, other levels of government, and unions. The council has met three or four times per year since it was established, in order to work collaboratively on the strategic matters of railway safety that were raised in the report.

Additionally, working with the railways and the major unions, Transport Canada has established a steering committee, made up of representatives of Transport Canada, the industry and the unions, to oversee the development of action plans for implementing the recommendations in the report on the Railway Safety Act review and the report on the study conducted by the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. The committee has been supported by six technical working groups in addressing ways in which to implement the recommendations of concern not only to the regulatory body, but also to the industry and the unions, and in keeping the ACRS informed of their progress.

These joint technical working groups included teams devoted to the rule making process, safety management systems, information collection and analysis, proximity and operations, environment and new safety technologies. Together, those groups were assigned 24 recommendations by the steering committee. All of them have completed their work. Their recommendations have been, or are being, implemented. In addition to the work of these groups, Transport Canada implemented eight internal recommendations. Industry implemented three recommendations that pertained to the companies. The final 21 recommendations are related to legislative changes which we are discussing today. In short, these amendments to the Railway Safety Act are the final component of a well-orchestrated and well-funded drive to make our railways safer.

In budget 2009, the government affirmed its commitment to a safe, reliable transportation system by earmarking $72 million over five years to implement important rail safety measures and legislative initiatives. These amendments to the Railway Safety Act that we see before us today are the fruit of that commitment. This initiative also shows how important these amendments are to the government, and it reflects the government's commitment to seeing these amendments implemented as soon as possible so that Canada can reap the benefits from them immediately.

In March 2010, the government introduced Bill C-33, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act. It contained essentially the same range of changes as the bill before us today does. Bill C-33, which all the parties in the House supported, was considered in detail by the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and then approved unanimously by all hon. members after some minor changes were made.

Unfortunately, Bill C-33 died on the order paper after many consultations, analyses and a very favourable reception, because the opposition chose an unnecessary election over the safety of Canadians. Knowing how important these essential amendments are with regard to safety, we reintroduced the same bill in the Senate, with the changes that everyone had agreed on.

Since then, a number of witnesses representing stakeholders have expressed their views and the bill has been reviewed and discussed at length in the standing committee of the other place. I am very pleased to say that the Senate committee, like ours, unanimously approved the bill with a slight change that was essentially administrative in nature.

There is clearly a lot of support for this bill from all parties. There have been thorough consultations over several years. The bill has been agreed upon in its various formats by all key industry stakeholders, as well as members of both the House and the other place. It is our responsibility to end this long debate and expedite the passage of this important legislation for the benefit of all Canadians. The safer railways act is acknowledged as the blueprint for the future of rail safety in this country. It would directly address the safety challenges that have been identified by two national reviews with innovative legislative solutions that would help make our railways and communities safer for years to come.

Mr. Speaker, allow me to highlight some of the key amendments included in Bill S-4. Each one is an important part of a comprehensive safety package.

In accordance with the recommendations arising from the Railway Safety Act review and the study by the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, the amendments under review will improve Transport Canada's oversight capacity by conferring on the Governor in Council the authority to require railway companies to obtain a railway operating certificate, attesting that they have met basic safety requirements, before commencing their activities.

The operating certificate, which will demonstrate that the company complies with baseline safety requirements, will apply to all railways under federal jurisdiction. Existing companies will have a two-year period from the coming into force of the amendments under review in which to meet the requirements for the certificate.

The amendments in Bill S-4 will also strengthen Transport Canada’s enforcement capacity in order to ensure better railway company compliance with safety rules and regulations. To that end, the department will apply monetary penalties to improve rail safety. The maximum amount of the penalties will be $50,000 for an individual and $250,000 for a corporation.

The new act will also strengthen Transport Canada’s enforcement powers by increasing fines to levels consistent with those for other modes of transportation. Maximum fines for convictions on indictment for a contravention of the act would be $1 million for a corporation and $50,000 for an individual. Maximum fines on summary conviction for contravention of the act would be $500,000 for a corporation and $25,000 for an individual.

One of the most important benefits of Bill S-4 is the increased focus on the importance of safety management systems. As members may know, a safety management system is a formal framework for integrating safety into day-to-day railway operations. During the Railway Safety Act review, stakeholders were supportive of the SMS approach to safety, but some felt that improvements were required before SMS could be considered fully implemented.

The amendments we are discussing today address those concerns. For example, under Bill S-4 all railway companies would be required to appoint an accountable executive responsible for all matters of safety. The legislation would also require all railway companies to implement whistleblower protection so that employees felt encouraged to report safety violations without fear of reprimand.

Railway companies would also be required, through the auditing process, to demonstrate that they continuously manage risks related to safety matters through the use of safety management systems. Changes like these would encourage the growth of a true culture of safety at both the corporate and operating levels of railway companies.

I noted earlier that the Senate committee had unanimously approved this bill with one minor change related to safety reporting. Although this bill originally called for the development of a new safety reporting process with the Transportation Safety Board and Transport Canada, all parties agreed that a reporting system already exists—the Transportation Safety Board—so that clause was struck. The rest, as mentioned, was agreed on unchanged.

The Safer Railways Act is clearly a step forward in terms of oversight, enforcement and the implementation of a safety system in the industry. It also advances safety in the administrative area by clarifying the authority and responsibilities of the minister in respect of railway matters. For example, these amendments will clarify that the legislation applies to all companies operating on federal track and will ensure that those companies are subject to the same high safety standards.

Bill S-4 is about safety. It is also about protecting our environment. By expanding regulation-making authorities, this legislation will allow Transport Canada to request an environmental management plan from all railways for federal review.

It will also allow a requirement for increased environmental information collection and railway equipment labelling related to emissions. These amendments plus an additional amendment to provide regulatory authority to control and prevent fires on railway rights-of-way are critical to strengthening environmental protection in the industry.

And that is what the amendments to Bill S-4 are basically all about: better oversight tools to ensure safety; enhanced safety management systems to build a stronger rail safety culture; and additional authority to help protect our environment from unnecessary degradation.

It is hard to argue with the importance of these amendments. Railways are an integral part of our infrastructure now, and they will be so in the future. We need them to be strong. We need them to be dependable. And we need them to be safe. All Canadians can benefit from that.

We believe that these amendments to the Railway Safety Act are essential and timely. Bill S-4 modernizes the Railway Safety Act to reflect the requirements of a growing and increasingly complex rail industry, and I believe that we can all agree to the important safety amendments contained in this bill both quickly and unanimously.

The bill is a step forward for Canadians, for safety and for the rail industry. With the agreement of the members today, we can take these steps together today, for a safe, reliable and economically viable freight and passenger railway system in Canada. The bill has been extensively debated over several years and has received wide support. I recommend that it be submitted to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities for further discussion.

I urge all hon. members to give this important bill their unanimous support.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of this side of the House, we certainly do welcome this long overdue legislation. We will be hearing more from our critic from Trinity—Spadina in a few minutes.

However, I would like to take this opportunity to ask the minister a question I have asked him before with respect to rail safety for Vancouver Island. Members are aware that VIA Rail suspended passenger service on the island nearly a year ago. At that time, the province offered to put up $7.5 million, half of the costs of repairing the railbed, to get safe passenger service moving again. I have asked the minister several times whether the federal government would come up with its share of those costs. I was assured that the minister is studying the request.

My question again today is this. When can we expect to see a positive answer with respect to getting the passenger rail service, which I note was promised in Confederation for British Columbia, back onto the rails in Vancouver Island?

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Denis Lebel Conservative Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, today we are speaking about safety and security for all of the country.

“Several” does not have the same meaning for the member as it does for me. He asked me and I gave him an answer. We are still analyzing the issue. That is what we will continue to do.

However, today I ask for his support to provide safety for all of the railways in the country.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I can say that the Liberal Party will certainly be supporting the bill.

I was the transport critic when we considered this bill in committee. A number of issues arose which we were not able to deal with, such as the light rail transit situation with GO trains and VIA Rail running on the same tracks, and when the railways wanted to have a certain degree of control over municipal developments close to the railway lines.

My question is this. Would the minister be open to amendments on issues such as these when the bill goes back to committee?

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Denis Lebel Conservative Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

We will consider public transit in the bill, Mr. Speaker. It is very important for us to offer safer services on all railways in the country, including public transit. On this matter, we will let the committee continue its work on that.

As I said before, these discussions have been under way for several years since 2007-08. We will surely hear comments and the committee will decide, but we will surely be in touch with all transit across the country.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for his speech and for the improvements in railway safety represented in Bill S-4.

I would like to ask him if we could take it further. I certainly agree with my colleague, the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, about how tragic it is when rail lines are not making their way to city centres the way they should and we are losing service across the country.

As a frequent VIA passenger myself, I have noticed that there are often rail delays, which then lead to the crews trying to make up with speed later on, and we know that can have tragic consequences.

A lot of this is due to the fact that the railway sidings are shorter now than the average length of a freight train, and since passenger rail must lease space and rely on freight for its signalling and safety, we have conflicts.

Is there anything the minister thinks can be done to invest in longer sidings and better transit connections so there is better sharing of the rails between passenger and freight in the interests of safety?

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Denis Lebel Conservative Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, for sure and the way we will manage the bill and the continuation of it, we will respect the jurisdiction of provinces and municipalities. We are working with them. We have invested over $5 billion in public transit in the last years since 2006 and we will continue to do so. That is very important for us.

With regard to signalling, we have some very important changes in the bill, which have already been implemented by Transport Canada, and for sure everything will become safer. With all the railways in this country, we will do what we are able to do about that.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that the government is moving forward on some amendments and improvements on rail safety.

I would appreciate the minister's answer to my question regarding Transport Canada's report on the derailment at Lake Wabumun and the largest spill of bunker C oil in history in North America, and that same week a monumental spill in Cheakamus River that wiped out a just recovered salmon fishery.

Transport Canada identified significant errors and problems. One of the problems was the turning over of inspection to the companies rather than the government intervening, and significant deficiencies in regulation, including replacement rails.

I am wondering if the minister could speak to that and to the fact that the Government of Canada completely dropped the ball on emergency response, and if he would be tabling a new emergency response protocol for the federal government to deal with emergency response in the event of derailment.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Denis Lebel Conservative Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I completely disagree with the remarks my colleague made leading up to her question. Earlier, when I referred to incidents and derailments that have occurred across Canada, I was also referring to the one she mentioned.

We know that, for various reasons, derailments often occur in less populated areas. As a result, it can take a little longer to get to the site of an incident, but we always get there. We are always on site with our partners to ensure that we respond to all incidents across Canada as quickly as possible.

Our objective in introducing this bill is to do more in that sense. Of course, given the kilometres and kilometres of rail in this country, there will always be things that we cannot control. Incident reports show that various factors contribute to these unfortunate events. We will continue to work with rail companies, all stakeholders and unions to make sure that everything we do improves the services we provide to ensure rail safety in Canada.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, when the transport committee last held hearings on this bill it was about a year ago, and in the Senate it was last fall. Since that time, of course, we have had the tragic event in Burlington.

I think some of the implications arising from that tragic event might give rise to possible amendments, including issues like cabin voice recorders.

I wonder if the minister would be open to amendments arising from this more recent event.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Denis Lebel Conservative Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I said before, the Advisory Council on Railway Safety is in place and working three or four times a year. I have already tasked the council with giving us an analysis, on an urgent basis, of the installation of voice recorders in locomotive cabs. That has been discussed in the past. It involves owners and managers of companies as well as unions. Companies have different points of view about that. However, that will surely be discussed and we will see what happens. We will see what we can do about it.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, for nine years from 1965 to 1974 I worked for Canadian National Railway as a signal maintainer. One of the things one learns in spending any time around the railway is how labour intensive it is to maintain the track alone. One of the things that happens in the rail services, like many other services in the country, is cutbacks. I am very concerned about that.

What is important is that government listen to the grassroots workers when it is involved with safety aspects. The mistakes that were just made in the tragedy in Burlington flowed obviously from the train moving too quickly.

I just wanted to pass those comments on. I look forward to the bill going to committee.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Denis Lebel Conservative Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, last year we continuously invested in infrastructure. Through the economic action plan we invested over $700 million in VIA Rail from April 2009 to March 2011. I totally agree with the member that we have to continue in that way.

The workers are working very hard on all railways in this country.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a rare opportunity to stand in the House and congratulate a minister and a government on what is an excellent piece of legislation and, more importantly, that follows a process that has gained the buy-in of industry, labour and government. If we are going to stand and make criticisms in the House when things do not go the way we want, then it is important to also stand and congratulate a government when it does something well.

I consulted with the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference on this bill. It was very proud to have participated in the bill and wants to pass on its congratulations to the minister and the government for a piece of legislation that has the buy-in of industry and labour. It is a solid piece of legislation.

I just want to congratulate the minister for shepherding the bill through Parliament. I look forward to more pieces of legislation coming forward from the government that follow this process.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Denis Lebel Conservative Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, with my background in sports, I believe that team work is very important. We will continue working hard together.

That is very important.

I would like to respond as well on the positive train control system, which I have not yet had a chance to mention. We are closely monitoring the implementation of positive train control in the United States. I would like to remind my colleague that the technology to which his party is referring will not be mandatory until 2015. Technical challenges are being experienced that will likely delay its implementation. However, Transport Canada is following that closely.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, with its far flung population centres, Canada has been compared to a string of beads and an island archipelago. This is as true today as it was 176 years ago when the first railway was built in our great country.

Railways are not just a means of transportation; they tie us together at a much deeper level. Without them, Confederation would not have been possible. One of the few things that the separate colonial governments could agree on when they founded our nation was the desire to be linked and to thrive through the railways.

The Maritimes only joined Confederation because the building of an intercolonial railway was promised. Likewise, British Columbia only acceded because it was promised it would be connected to the rest of the country through a transcontinental railway.

The fathers of Confederation grasped the immense importance of railways for such a vast and sparsely populated country. This is why Canadian governments in the past have been supportive and involved in railways since the inception of our nation.

Depending on the types and location of railway projects, different approaches were taken by the government. The Intercolonial Railway was built under direct government supervision. Other railway links were established because loans were underwritten by the state. The most famous and important of the nation shaping railway projects was the Canadian Pacific Railway. It was made possible by private and public funds, as well as through massive land grants in the Canadian Prairies. The railway, the longest in the world at the time, was completed in 1885 to great fanfare.

Creating a coast to coast railway connection was not only an economic imperative to string the provinces together, but it was also an act of nation building. The construction of railways created the economic basis for large parts of Canada. It also made our nation a diverse and striving one by bringing in immigrants from around the world as railway workers. Fifteen thousand Chinese workers built the most challenging and dangerous portion of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Long after the transcontinental links were built, a strong sense of federal responsibility remained, especially when times were tough. When the economy was down and the supply of immigrants had dried up during World War I, the government salvaged the assets of the three railways and merged them to form the Canadian National Railway.

After World War II, the slow decline of passenger railway services began. The large duopolists did not have a serious interest in passenger lines, as they focused on freight. Again, the federal government acted to protect national interests. Instead of letting passenger services disappear altogether under private sector management, VIA Rail was established in 1978 to ensure that passenger services would continue to connect Canadian cities. Yes, it was important to celebrate that year.

Unfortunately, more recent federal governments have tended to ignore the vast potential that rail services, both for freight and passengers, hold for our great country. Under the Conservatives, railways were largely deregulated in 1987. Railway lines that were built to serve public needs with public money and land were now allowed to be abandoned by rail companies. As a result, Canada has lost over 10,000 kilometres in active rail lines since then, a loss of almost 20% of our rail network.

Another deliberate setback took place in 1995 when the Liberals and the Liberal government privatized the Canadian National Railway. In order to cash in on the coveted national asset, the government at the time sold CN on the stock market.

The benefits of railways are clear. Trains are substantially more fuel efficient than motor vehicles when it comes to moving passengers and cargo. By electrifying railway lines, greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced.

Despite the shortcomings of federal safety regulations, travelling by train is roughly five times safer than using a car and it is still the main mode of transportation for our Canadian goods, with 70% of all freight in our country shipped by rail. Rail lines provide crucial links to our southern neighbour and its important markets for Canadian companies around the world.

In large urban centres, commuting by rail is vital in getting millions of Canadians to their workplace every day. VIA Rail connects our country's most vibrant cities, carrying more than four million passengers a year, and it can do a lot more if it has government support.

Despite the impressive numbers, the picture is not so rosy. What used to be our nation's prime mode of transportation and springboard for our national aspirations have been relegated to a back-row seat. The changes that the advent of air travel and cars have brought about cannot be denied or reversed. However, we are foolish to believe that we are helpless and that the only modern way to move goods and people is through airports and highways. Railways can—

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order, please. There are a number of conversations commencing in the chamber. The hon. member for Trinity—Spadina has the floor. I would ask members who wish to carry on conversations to do so in their respective lobbies.

The hon. member for Trinity—Spadina.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, railways can be competitive and highly successful commercially. CN, for example, made billions of dollars last year. It takes the right government mindset and political will.

Countries in Europe and Asia, and lately even the United States, are showing us how efficient, fast and profitable railway passenger services can be. Instead of high-speed trains that run on their tracks, Canadians are stuck with slow diesel trains that roll on bumpy tracks that are owned by the monopolized CN and CP Rail. It is their tracks, their train-controlled centres and their trains that take precedence over any passenger train, a situation unheard of in countries like France or China.

Via Rail is forced to lease essentially all its tracks, as it owns close to none of them. By allowing the big private rail companies to abandon Canadian rail lines, both the passenger and freight customers, they are freer than ever to expand elsewhere, which means the lucrative U.S. market. CN has gobbled up various railway companies with its network stretching all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. CPR has made similar moves, purchasing thousands of kilometres of tracks in the United States to the tune of several billion dollars. No wonder Canadians are left behind.

The lack of attention from both large rail companies results in underserved rural areas with farmers who cannot ship their agricultural products, logging and mining companies that become uncompetitive as they cannot ship on time and car manufacturers whose sophisticated supply systems are upended by dismal rail services.

I have met many of the farm lobbying groups, whether it is Pulse Canada, Canadian Soybean or the wheat farmers. They have all said that they are losing millions of dollars because of unreliable rail service. Unfortunately the Conservative government has only made token efforts so far to address these issues.

To make the situation worse, passengers in Canada are left out in the cold as well. The government is slashing funding to VIA Rail by $200 million this year, according to its estimates. Crucial investment in overhauling aging cars and engines, as well as safety upgrades, cannot be made. The combined neglect of railway companies and the federal government has reached an unprecedented level of under-investment across the country.

A crucial link from Vancouver Island, and my colleagues know this very well, was recently shut down as it had become unsafe after years of pent-up maintenance. Likewise, the rail connection between Montreal and the Gaspé has been severed, leaving passengers stranded and a whole region cut off after 150 years of rail history.

The overall service levels have decreased so much that various train connections in 2012 are slower than they were in the early 1990s. The connecting Winnipeg-Churchill train has seen its schedule lengthened by about five hours since 2008. The Halifax-Montreal train is now almost three hours slower than it was in 1993. Not surprisingly, ridership has gone down from 279,000 in 1996 to 127,000 in 2010, which is more than half.

Even the service on the connection between Canada's two largest cities, Montreal and Toronto, is slower than it was in 1992. Back then the train ride was just below four hours. Now it takes close to five hours.

The current state of Canada's railways is made even harder because of government policies that favour air and road travel over trail. For the financial year of 2009-10, all levels of government, taken together, spent $1.2 billion on subsidizing air travel. This number is more than twice the amount that was spent in 2001-02. Likewise, government support for marine transportation increased by 90% over the same time span, now reaching $1.8 billion.

What about roads? They are our government's pet projects. All levels of government spend close to $30 billion a year on highways and roads. Again, this amount has more than doubled since 2001.

Judging by the public discourse, transit is the ugly duckling when it comes to government support, but not quite. With almost $6 billion in government support, that is still light years away from passenger rail services. The rail service is treated as an afterthought. This is evidenced by the dismal amount of $430 million in government spending in 2009 and 2010. That is only a small increase of 12% over the 2001 levels, barely enough to keep up with inflation.

The new federal budget will put an X through that number, making it even lower, and more than a third of VIA Rail support is expected to be chopped, along with cuts to overall rail safety programs. Without a doubt, rail transport needs to be put on the national agenda again, not just for economic reasons but also to improve the safety and give Canadians the confidence they need when they make their travel arrangements.

As the transport critic, I welcome Bill S-4 and the step forward that it represents for Canada's rail safety. I am joined in my appreciation of the safer railways act by my New Democrat colleagues. However, it can be argued that it has taken far too long to get this bill to the current stage. By the time the bill receives royal assent, it will be over five years since an independent panel made 56 recommendations to Transport Canada on how to make our railways safer. It is in the interest of all Canadians to make the bill a reality as soon as possible.

The tragic VIA Rail collision in Burlington last month shows that we need to do more to prevent future derailments, fatalities and injuries. It is time for the Conservative government to take action and satisfy long-standing demands from the independent experts on the Transportation Safety Board. The agency has been calling for voice recorders on locomotives since 2003 and they are still not in place. More talk is not what we need; it is action that we want. Likewise, the Transportation Safety Board has been calling for automatic safety back-up measures, in the case of equipment failure or human error, to prevent tragic accidents.

In 2008 the United States acted after a horrendous crash in California. By making positive train control mandatory, the U.S. is ensuring that an automatic safety system is in place, just like the one the Transportation Safety Board has been requesting for more than 10 years. Seeing the life-saving value of this technology, the experts on the board have refined the cause and have specifically demanded the introduction of mandatory positive train control in Canada since 2010.

The New Democrats urge the Conservative government to heed the Transportation Safety Board's request to make our railways safer for passengers and rail workers alike. To enable VIA Rail to make its operations safer and to improve service levels, we also call on the federal government to reverse its funding cuts. Only by giving VIA Rail the financial resources that it needs, can we increase safety levels and restore confidence of Canadian confidence in rail travel.

Our demands are clear. We need Bill S-4 to pass. We want to ensure the Transportation Safety Board's recommendation for voice recorders and positive train controls are implemented as soon as possible. We have to make passenger rail services safe and reliable again by restoring VIA Rail's funding. The time to act is now. By taking those measures, we continue to build on the legacy that was accomplished by our predecessors. Without the vision of this honourable House, that famous last spike would not have been driven into the transcontinental railway in 1885. Let us have similar foresight in making railways a national priority again.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member made comments about the tragic train accident in my riding of Burlington and I appreciate her thoughts on the matter.

The NDP has indicated its support on moving this bill forward in a timely manner, getting it to committee and back to the House. Are there amendments we should be aware of that the NDP will be putting forward to the bill as it is presently written?

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, as you have heard from what I said earlier, this side of the House would prefer to see detailed regulations in the bill mandating positive train control systems and voice recording systems in locomotive cabs. However, we are not going to put that forward as an amendment because I detect an unwillingness at this point by the government to support it. That is unfortunate, because by 2015 the United States will make it mandatory for all trains to have positive train control systems and a large number of our trains travel to the United States. As I said earlier, if we made that an amendment, my guess is that the Conservative government would not support it and it would delay the bill.

Since the member is from an area where there was a tragic accident, I want to point out that in 2010 the Transportation Safety Board recommended making positive train control systems mandatory. I hope the government will act on that recommendation as soon as possible.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I might point out to my colleague that earlier today, I asked the minister about the possibility of amendments. He said he would be open to possible changes at committee. I do not know how serious that is compared with what she might have heard, but I thought I would put it on the record.

My question has to do with her comments about speed rail in Canada being bad versus speed rail in other places like Europe, China and the U.S. being good. She seems to attribute that difference mainly to the fact that VIA Rail does not have its own tracks and has to use the tracks of CN and CP, whereas in those other places they have their own tracks.

What is her solution? If the idea is to build new tracks across Canada for VIA Rail, that would cost billions or tens of billions of dollars. I agree with her. I have travelled on the fast trains in some of those places and they are far better than what we have in Canada. What is her solution to this problem?

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, there are several areas where there can be improvements. Regulations or legislation to ensure there are service agreements between the customers of CN and CP would help freight services. It would ensure that deliveries were made on time. Train arrival times would be given in advance, for example, to farmers, the logging industry and coal companies. That would be one solution.

The second solution, using the Quebec City to Windsor rail line as an example, is we could certainly upgrade the tracks. There is no reason not to have high-speed rail through this corridor. We could upgrade the VIA Rail services incrementally to make sure that eventually there is a high-speed electric train in this corridor.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer NDP Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina. She has been a strong and relentless voice for building safety and infrastructure in the rail industry. I also congratulate the Minister of Transport on Bill S-4. It is a good effort. It is good to see parties working together to build this good legislation.

Previous Conservative and Liberal governments have allowed or even caused the decline and degradation of Canadian freight and passenger rail. For example, in my riding we have lost passenger rail on the north shore of Lake Superior through Thunder Bay.

I have a provocative question for the member for Trinity—Spadina. How can we work effectively with the Conservatives to build rail infrastructure across Canada, or will we have to wait until we form government in four years?

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is absolutely correct. Canada has lost over 10,000 kilometres of active rail lines since the deregulation of railways in 1987. The money needed to improve our networks is mostly siphoned off by CN and CP. First a Conservative government and then a Liberal government privatized CNR in 1995. It was sold on the stock market. VIA Rail was left holding the bag. Unfortunately, until we change our policies and regulations, or are willing to invest some money into electric trains and repairing the tracks, I am afraid the slow decline is going to continue.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau NDP Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to congratulate my colleague from Trinity—Spadina once again on her wonderful speech.

But, why is it important to ensure rail safety? For one thing, we must remember that, historically, the railway united Canada. So it is very important in uniting Canada, from east to west, and in encouraging the economic development of many communities that would really like to have more rail services, particularly from VIA Rail.

In my riding in the Eastern Townships, for instance, Sherbrooke is no longer served by VIA Rail. Although some routes are being used less and less, other sectors want more services—high-quality, safe services.

In my colleague's opinion, for Canada's unity, for the safety and economic development of the regions, why is it so important to emphasize rail development?

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, travelling by rail is safe, comfortable, fast, reliable and environmentally sustainable. If we look at all different modes of transportation, rail is by far the best way to go. With modern technology it can be extremely fast.

It is tragic that we see the technology is there, but the government is unwilling to regulate it. For example, in Quebec there was a tragic derailment in 2010. The Transportation Safety Board recently reported that the positive train control system would have made a difference and slowed down the train. The train would not have derailed and people would not have been injured.

That is one of the ways to keep train travel even safer than it is now.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, as the member for Bourassa and on behalf of my party, I would like to start by commending the work that was done in the other chamber. Obviously, we all remember that this bill is a revival of former Bill C-33 and that a good job was done with the amendments. People did a great job.

At the time, the hon. member for Markham—Unionville was on the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and the work done there was quite outstanding. Since the work was well done and everyone decided to work together to ensure everyone's safety, the bill deserves our support today. We most definitely have to send it to committee as soon as possible in order to look into certain aspects and see if we have to make some improvements.

In the other chamber, Senator Mercer, together with the other hon. senators—from both the government side and our side—have already done a thorough job. All players had a chance to speak their minds. We realize that there is already a lot of support and a series of amendments has been moved as a result of the work accomplished on the former bill.

It is only fair to say that we must support this bill and find the proper way to do so. Obviously, pulling on a flower does not make it grow faster. However, we certainly want to make sure that things will be done as quickly as possible. The bill has to be sent to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities so that we can do a proper job and quickly address the issue to determine whether adjustments have to be made. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario will agree with me in saying that Bill S-4 is a good bill and that, as a result, we should support it, given the significant work that was done in the other chamber.

I want to explain to the thousands of television viewers watching us today what Bill S-4 is all about. It is intended, of course, to amend the Railway Safety Act, specifically to improve the oversight capacity of the Department of Transport, to strengthen that department’s enforcement powers by introducing administrative monetary penalties and increasing fines, to enhance the role of safety management systems by including a provision for a railway executive who is accountable for safety—and the word accountable is important here—and to implement a confidential non-punitive reporting system for employees of railway companies. It also seeks to clarify the authority and responsibilities of the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities with respect to railway matters.

It is important that, as the representative of the people, the minister have those powers and, clearly, the regulation-making powers must be expanded, including those dealing with environmental management. The process for rule making by railway companies must also be clarified.

What I find interesting about this approach is that, for the most part, all partners support this bill. The unions, as well as the Railway Association of Canada, are generally in favour of this legislation. Naturally, the RAC is not in a position to say at this time if the industry will support the bill without reservation because, after appearing twice before the parliamentary committee that studied Bill S-4 and Bill S-33—the predecessor to the bill we are studying today—the RAC had proposed seven amendments to improve safety, all of which were rejected.

It is fair to say that our system is quite safe, but we need to make the necessary changes to make it safer. Naturally, I acknowledge my colleague from Burlington, who had that tragic accident in his riding. We will let the investigation take its course, but we must ensure that we develop the necessary tools to guarantee safety.

I truly believe in rail transportation. We all know that this country has been built on that vision. It is a great way to bridge rural and urban Canada. However, I think we need to provide better tools to make sure that citizens from coast to coast to coast feel that they are first-class citizens with that mode of transportation. Bill S-4 would provide that and some problems would be prevented.

Let us take a look at infrastructure. Certain areas may have some situations, such as the one my colleague for Trinity—Spadina spoke about in eastern Quebec. Of course, we would promote specific programs on infrastructure to make sure that we have the capacity for the track to be accurate. We must make sure we are providing the service which, in certain areas, is an essential service. It is important that we take a look at that.

We would not play with security. At times it might be used in partisan ways, such as on Bill C-10, but for the railway I think it is a non-partisan issue. I think that all sides believe in security.

However, this bill needs to be quickly sent to committee. I think that we need to look further at the bill. My colleague suggested that the Canadian Urban Transit Association, in approaching the committee, was concerned about how the provisions of the bill would affect the operation of light rail transit that operates on federally regulated rail lines. There are only a few examples of this in the country. For example, the Lakeshore line of GO Transit moves an incredibly large number of people each day. Therefore, the committee concerns must be twofold.

First, overly large increases to the administrative burden on authorities like GO Transit would negatively impact ridership and fares. However, considering the volume of riders and the number of level crossings on the Lakeshore line, it is also important that the Government of Canada ensure that these trains operate with the highest level of safety possible.

Second, the Railway Association of Canada made a request that the bill be amended by adding to subclause 24(1) the following:

Respecting notices to be given to railways regarding any proposed local plan of subdivision or zoning by-law or proposed amendment thereof in respect of land that is located within 300 meters of a line of railway or railway yard.

This amendment would require municipalities to notify and consult the railway if they made any zoning amendments on land within 300 metres of a railway or railway yard. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities was understandably concerned about this measure. At the heart of its concern was this requirement for communities to inform railways of changes from adjacent land to proximate land. As it was explained to the committee, municipalities across Canada already inform railways when their zoning plans affect land adjacent to the railway's right of way.

The FCM's objection to this change was twofold. Primarily there is a concern that the 300 metre limit is overly burdensome on municipalities that already inform railways of land use changes on property adjacent to the rail line. There is also a concern about the federal government mandating a provision that directly interferes with how provinces legislate municipal power and zoning laws. As these laws and powers vary drastically across the provinces, it would be inappropriate for the federal government to simply override them all. It could also create needless red tape for the local transit association.

These are just some of the issues that the transport committee could consider taking up at its hearings. However, I think everyone has done a great job in the other chamber.

I believe it is a good idea to pass this bill very quickly in order to provide the minister and the department with the necessary authority to enact regulations, and to ensure better safety and greater consistency of the regulations. Partners must be heard quickly one last time by the Standing Committee on Transport to ensure, as we all wish, better safety for all Canadians.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his comments on the bill. Members will note that a couple of my colleagues have commended the minister of transport for consulting relevant persons in development of the bill.

One aspect that seems to be lacking in the tabling of the bill is an anticipated regulatory agenda and timeline for the regulations to be implemented, which is merely an enabling statute. Also missing is the tabling of an enforcement and compliance policy. Why do I raise that? As a former environmental enforcer, I know that the proof is in the pudding. What is most important is the commitment of the government to actually enforce these improved safety standards.

Over a 20 year period, the Transportation Safety Board investigation reports have cited serious continuous operating regulatory enforcement deficiencies, overreliance and outdated, ineffective inspection techniques, inadequate emergency response training and supervision.

Would the hon. member support a call for the tabling of a regulatory agenda and timeline, an enforcement and compliance strategy, and a commitment to actually enforce this new law?

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for her question. I was a minister in another government and the important thing is to be pragmatic and find a way to put some teeth in the regulations.

My colleague asked some good questions. They are the types of questions we can ask the minister and all the stakeholders directly in committee in order to make the bill effective. This is not just lip service. We want to reduce the red tape and have the necessary tools to ensure greater safety, including environmental safety.

Earlier I was talking about municipal zoning. We have to respect the jurisdictions. These are the types of questions we can ask in order to assess the feasibility of this bill and ensure that it is not just wishful thinking, that it could indeed work. Given the work that has already been done in the other place and all the amendments that were proposed and approved regarding the previous Bill C-33, this is a good bill, but there is always room for improvement. We will ask questions, but not to the detriment of passing this bill.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend the hon. member on his excellent speech. I have a question for him. I was under the impression that the minister might accept amendments, but the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina suggested otherwise.

It is true that in the previous parliament, a minority government at the time, the transport committee accepted a number of amendments. Given the diversity of views on the likelihood of the majority government now accepting amendments, is my colleague leaning on the side of optimism or pessimism with respect to the question?

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is a great existential question. Are we optimists or pessimists? I know the minister well enough to know that he does not play with safety and that he is open-minded. I like trusting people. I do not want to indulge in crass partisanship like certain NDP members who are saying that he is not open-minded and that he will not accept amendments. He has proven in the past that he can listen. This is a truly non-partisan issue. I am going to be fairly optimistic and realistic. I do not see why I would doubt the integrity of one of our colleagues. It would be unparliamentary.

Given that he has already said that he is open to discussion and amendments, we should believe him. The work that has been done, mainly in the other chamber, shows without a shadow of a doubt that they listened to us. At the time of Bill C-33, the Liberal Party and my colleague proposed amendments that were accepted. I do not think that this is a matter of minority or majority, but of doing what is necessary to help Canadians.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I cannot help but think as we are discussing this today that you were just at the Little Native Hockey League in Sudbury. I am glad that you were there supporting them. I think that it is really important we support them.

There is a train service that goes from Sudbury to Toronto and, eventually, to Ottawa and Montreal. I cannot help but think if it were faster, how much of an imprint that would have on the environment and how much the tourism would mean to our economy. I know that I would the take train more often if it were faster.

As my colleague knows, the bill was actually tabled in the House in the previous Parliament, as Bill C-33. I wonder whether he wants to comment on the amendments which made it possible to have the bill before the House again. I am sure that he would agree with me that my colleague, the member for the Western Arctic, was instrumental in having that amendment tabled.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not intend to go over old territory and say that one member was better than another in the previous Parliament. I am not sure whether the Sudbury team would get ahead faster in a faster train. This is an old issue; it goes back 30 years. A high-speed train was discussed and many studies were done. There are economic considerations. In the Liberal Party, we feel that we should have more of a railway culture. Canada's vision and the connection between the east and the west were possible because of the railway. So we must work accordingly.

Having said that, we want a high-speed train, but do we want this bill to pass at high speed? We have to do things right. We will be here to make sure that the bill works properly.

I said from the outset that I support the work done by the other chamber. Our committee is not too partisan. When they go too far, we call them to order. But I think we have a good transport committee and we can get things done very quickly. Our respective leaders will then be able to work together to ensure we move on to something else, since it is about time to pass this bill.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member makes reference to western Canada. Many individuals in western Canada would welcome the opportunity to be able to ride a train, recognizing that there are many deficiencies in services provided. We like to think that in the future, as the west continues to develop, especially at today's rapid pace, we will eventually see more VIA Rail services so that one could take a train from Winnipeg to Regina, for example.

Would the member comment about whether in the future it would be good to see VIA Rail enhanced to provide more service to areas that do not have as much as service as the Ontario-Quebec region?

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is a very relevant question and I thank the hon. member for Winnipeg North for asking it.

I am one of those people who thinks that we should change the transportation culture in this country and that it should definitely be built around the railway. This is a vast country. Napoleon said that geography dictates politics.

If we want to ensure that all Canadians from coast to coast to coast feel like first-class citizens, we have to provide proper services. Is it an essential service? What is the government's role in that area? I truly believe that we should invest. It is not an expense.

We spoke about Quebec-Windsor. I heard we also spoke about Calgary-Edmonton. However, we have to look at all of those communities, including the small communities. We spoke about the Arctic. We spoke about western Canada. It is imperative, if we want to ensure that this country has first-class citizens everywhere, that we provide all the tools to ensure that we can reach them. It is not just a social matter. It is also a matter of economics. The basic economy starts with infrastructure. I believe that through the rail strategy we can ensure that everybody, no matter where in this country, feels at home.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Nepean—Carleton Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I think it is best to start our remarks in the House of Commons on this or any subject by addressing first principles.

I believe the first principle is the government should only do what only government can do. Public safety is one of those areas that the citizen or the enterprise cannot simply manage all by themselves. As a result, protecting the security and the safety of the individual is a primary responsibility of government. Thus, we have Bill S-4, which deals in particular with railway safety and the statute assigned to that goal.

I will go into the history of this statute and the framework of legislation that has existed and continues to do so. Before I do that though, I will state my full support for the bill. It is a bill to amend the Railway Safety Act. It furthers our government's agenda to ensure a safe, reliable and economically viable freight and passenger railway system.

The amendments proposed in the bill will increase the public safety of Canadians, enhance the safety of our communities, and contribute to a stronger economy, a modern infrastructure and a cleaner environment.

The Railway Safety Act came into force in 1989 during a period of significant transformation in the Canadian rail industry. It was a time of privatization and restructuring, supported by a new federal policy that separated economic and safety legislation to provide the railway companies with flexibility so that they could grow and prosper.

I should mention in passing that Conservative and Liberal governments in the last two and a half decades have moved toward greater privatization and less government control in all areas of transportation, including ports, railways, airports, airlines and a whole series of other specific areas within the country's transportation system. That decision by both Liberals and Conservatives to move toward privatization has been a resounding and unmitigated success for Canada and for Canadians.

Today, economic regulation of the rail industry is guided by the Canada Transportation Act, which provides an overall framework to ensure a national transportation system that is competitive, economic and efficient. The act, which came into effect in 1996, also established the Canadian Transportation Agency, which is responsible for dispute resolution and economic regulation of all modes of transportation under federal jurisdiction, including rail.

Rail safety regulation on the other hand is governed by the Railway Safety Act, which was developed in the spirit of co-operation between industry and government. This act moved away from a fully prescriptive regulatory approach to one that recognized the responsibility of railway companies for the safety of their own operations.

At the same time, the federal government through Transport Canada retained the responsibility and the power to protect people, property and the environment by ensuring that the railway companies operate safely within that national framework. Once again, we liberated the market to find the best ways to achieve safety, but we created a legal framework to ensure that people and property and the environment are protected as the industry does its work.

Transport Canada undertakes its responsibility to maintain a safe national rail system through a policy and regulatory development, through outreach and education, through oversight and enforcement of the rules and regulations it implements under the Railway Safety Act.

Applied in tandem, the Railway Safety Act and the Canada Transportation Act have successfully guided the growth of Canada's rail sector since the 1990s, but there are issues and challenges. As it stands today, the interrelationship of these two acts has created a notable gap in railway safety oversight that must be addressed if we are to ensure the continuing safety of our national railway system.

Currently under the Canada Transportation Act a new railway company is allowed to begin operations immediately upon receiving a certificate of fitness from the Canadian Transportation Agency. This certificate indicates that the railway is under federal jurisdiction, has sufficient financial capacity to operate, and has obtained appropriate third party liability insurance coverage. This is in keeping with the economic mandate of the Canadian Transportation Agency. It is not, however, fully in keeping with the national safety mandate of the Railway Safety Act.

In accordance with the Railway Safety Act, a new railway must comply with all safety regulations in force at the time it begins operations. It is important to recognize that there are no regulated requirements in the Canada Transportation Act to verify the safety capacity of the company before a certificate of fitness is issued and the company's operations begin.

As the Railway Safety Act does not currently specify minimum baseline safety requirements for a new railway company either, a gap in oversight is created and a new railway could theoretically operate for a year or more before the effectiveness of its safety systems was formally verified. This is an important safety issue which the government is striving to correct through these amendments.

The introduction of a railway operating certificate is a key component of this bill, and will continue to resolve this long-standing safety issue in our railway system. The amendment represents an important step in the right direction to strengthen the safety of our vital rail industry. Anyone who likes to eat food, consume retail goods, drive a car, basically perform any function as part of a modern society requires the use of goods that are brought by rail. We cannot underestimate the importance of this industry to the operation of the Canadian economy.

When the Minister of Transport appointed the independent advisory panel to lead the Railway Safety Act review in 2007, he provided them with a clear mandate to identify steps in the Railway Safety Act and make recommendations to strengthen the regulatory regime to ensure the changing nature of the railway industry and its operations were protected.

Following extensive consultation with stakeholders and careful consideration of these consultations during the year-long course of review, the advisory panel specifically recommended in its final report in 2008:

A railway should be required to obtain a Rail Operating Certificate (ROC ) as a precondition to obtaining a Certificate of Fitness (from the Canadian Transportation Agency) and to commencing or continuing operations.

The intent of this recommendation is clear. This government emphatically agrees that the implementation of railway operating certificates is an optimal solution to improve regulatory oversight and ensure that new railways have met clearly defined baseline safety requirements before they begin operations anywhere in the country.

Bill S-4, the safer railways act which we are discussing today, will give the Governor in Council, that is the cabinet, the authority to require railway companies to apply for and receive a railway operating certificate. Bill S-4 will also give Transport Canada the power to establish the baseline safety requirements for the certificate by regulation. Establishing these requirements by regulation will provide Transport Canada with the authority to undertake a comprehensive safety review for every new railway to determine whether it complies with the regulatory framework proposed.

Once the regulator is satisfied that all baseline safety requirements have been met, an operating certificate will be issued. It is important to note that this requirement for railway operating certificates will apply to all railways under federal jurisdiction, including those already in operation, such as CN, CP, VIA Rail and numerous other short lines. It is obviously impractical and economically unviable for these companies to cease operations until a certificate can be issued. As such, existing railways will have a grace period of two years from the coming into force of the new regulations to meet the requirement for the certificate.

Should there be instances where the railway operating certificate is refused, suspended or cancelled, the applicant will have the right to appeal by requesting a review by the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada. That being said, it is critical to add that this government is committed to ensuring that the introduction of railway operating certificates will be developed and implemented in the same spirit of co-operation between government and all stakeholders which guided the creation of the Railway Safety Act nearly two decades ago. Once this bill is passed, Transport Canada will consult stakeholders on the development of regulations that relate to this important new initiative to improve railway safety in this country.

In summary, I will say that the safety benefits of this proposal for the introduction of a railway operating certificate are clearly evident. An important regulatory gap will be effectively and efficiently addressed. Transport Canada's railway safety oversight powers will be enhanced to meet the changing nature of the industry over the long term. Canadians from coast to coast will reap the personal and economic advantages of a safer and more secure Canadian rail system.

When the Minister of Transport launched the Railway Safety Act review, Canada had recently suffered a series of devastating train derailments. These derailments caused the death of loved ones, the disruption of businesses and the serious pollution of trackside lakes, rivers and communities. During the course of extensive inspections and audits undertaken by Transport Canada following these incidents, the regulator identified numerous deficiencies that contributed to the decreased safety levels, including non-compliance by the railway companies with various safety requirements.

There was a general concern with the level of the railways' compliance with the regulations. Accordingly, the terms of reference for the Railway Safety Act review specifically directed the independent panel to examine the adequacy of Transport Canada's enforcement powers and to consider whether administrative monetary penalties should be added to the range of enforcement powers available to the department. Upon examination, it became clear that Transport Canada's enforcement powers under the Railway Safety Act needed to be strengthened to encourage better regulatory compliance, increased safety and help to prevent further incidents like those that originally triggered the review.

The independent panel's final recommendation on the issue, as detailed in its report of March 2008, plainly stated that an administrative monetary penalty scheme should be included in the Railway Safety Act as an additional compliance tool to enhance safety in the rail industry. This government fully agrees with the panel's assessment, and the introduction of a scheme for administrative penalties has been included as an important and integral part of this plan.

Administrative monetary penalties are certainly not new in the transportation sector. They were successfully introduced in the air industry back in 1986 and were subsequently introduced in the marine sector in 1991.

Penalties of this nature have been introduced in the transportation industry because they work. In the simplest terms, administrative monetary penalties are similar to traffic tickets for car drivers. When a company or individuals break the rules or do not comply with the regulations, the department can impose a pre-established administrative monetary penalty or fine to help encourage compliance in the future.

Administrative monetary penalties have other safety benefits as well. With these penalties in place, there is a perception of fairness because the operator knows in advance the cost of non-compliance and it is applied uniformly. Penalties can also be applied more uniformly as there is less discretion for giving warnings and therefore less opportunity for inconsistency.

Under the current Railway Safety Act, Transport Canada's options for enforcing non-compliance are very limited. When a violation is found during the course of an inspection or audit, an inspector will normally issue a letter of non-compliance and follow-up in a given time frame to confirm that corrective action has been taken. If the situation has not been corrected, the regulator has only one option, prosecution, which is both costly and time consuming. Therefore, it is ineffective for a large number of violations. This is a significant weakness in the current enforcement scheme of the act.

We believe administrative penalties should be implemented as an additional enforcement tool under the act to provide an efficient, effective and less costly alternative to prosecution, particularly in the cases of persistent non-compliance with the act and its safety requirements. This is consistent with the principle of minimizing the regulatory burden for Canadians, while at the same time promoting regulatory certainty and compliance.

In the interest of fairness for all parties, the proposed administrative penalty scheme will allow for a review of the regulator's penalty decisions by the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada. This scheme will also include provisions related to the minister's decision to impose a penalty, the due process to be followed, the review of the decisions by the appeal tribunal and the level of fines to be paid for non-compliance and infractions. Maximum levels for administrative monetary penalties will be $50,000 for an individual and $250,000 for a corporation.

In addition to the implementation of an administrative penalty to improve railway safety, we propose, through these amendments, to raise existing judicial penalty levels, which were established 20 years ago and are no longer consistent with other modes of transportation. Maximum judicial fines for convictions on indictment for a contravention of the act would increase from $200,000 to $1 million for corporations and $10,000 to $50,000 for individuals. Maximum fines on summary conviction for a contravention will increase from $100,000 to $250,000 for corporations and $5,000 to $25,000 for an individual.

Implementing these penalties, as proposed in the bill, is clearly an important step in the development of an effective railway safety regime with sufficient scope and strength to ensure that our railways are safe and that they remain safe for the long term as the rail industry continues to evolve and to grow.

I began today with basic principles: that government should only do what only government can do. Public safety is an example of one of the things that only government can enforce. That is why we are creating a legislative framework in which free enterprise can operate in a manner that is safe, efficient and fair for the Canadian people.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Nepean--Carleton was not in the House the last time when I spoke about the fact that I worked for the railway for nine years. He talked about the privatization of CNR and the outcomes. One of the outcomes of privatization, when companies start chasing profit, is that safety is pushed aside in many instances. Therefore, I have to commend the government, which is not something I do on very many occasions, for this legislation, primarily because the government took into account labour and the company and the legislative requirements of both. This is an example that could be used in many other areas.

It is crucially important that people understand that rail safety has such a tremendous impact on Canadians. If we think in terms of rail crossings, where pedestrians and vehicles pass in front of trains, if people in charge of those trains are in any way not following the rules, we can imagine the kinds of catastrophes that could happen. Again, I commend the government on this move forward and I hope it will use this template in other places.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate very much that the New Democrats will be supporting the bill.

We all agree that the bill has undergone enormous consultation and a great deal of study. The review panel has done its homework. Industry, labour and the public have contributed and we now have an excellent product that largely implements the recommendations of the review panel. Everyone wants the bill to happen. The goal should be to pass it as quickly as possible. Let us undertake all the steps that we can, right here right now, to get the bill through the House so it can become law and Canadians can be safer.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I had the opportunity to sit in on most of the review that was undertaken by the committee. The government obviously recognized the support of all the parties and all the people involved, from labour to the industry itself.

Could the parliamentary secretary comment further on the urgency to get this done, with all the discussion that has taken place and the encouragement of other parties to support the bill for the sake of safety?

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, when it comes to the bill, when all is said and done, all that needs to be said has been said. Now it is time to get it done.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, as a former environmental enforcer, I commend the government for increasing the penalties and its show of concern for public safety and toward strict enforcement of a potentially dangerous industry.

Past governments have tabled enforcement compliance policies at the same time that they have tabled a bill calling for stricter enforcement to show good faith that they intend to show clear criteria on how they will enforce. Could the parliamentary secretary advise if in the coming budget there will be an increase in dollars for railway inspection? Could he also inform the House if the government is also changing gears and going to move toward having the rail safety officers inspecting and enforcing, not the railway company itself?

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, when it comes to the budget, what I can say is not interesting and what is interesting I cannot say.

On the member's specific question about increased funding, I would point out that the goal is not to spend more money; the goal is to make people safer. We should not judge our success around this place by how much money we can expend. Even on worthy causes, it is not an achievement to be more expensive. The achievement is the result. We have put forward legislation that will deliver results. I encourage the member and her party to support its swift passage.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau NDP Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the parliamentary secretary on his very interesting speech. We are certainly going to support the bill, which we feel is an excellent one.

On several occasions, both sides of the House have supported motions or bills that have been followed only by spoken and written words, but not by action.

This time, will there really be some action? The safety of Canadians is of concern to us all from east to west. As I said earlier today, historically, our railway system has united Canada. It is extremely important to make the development of our railway system a priority.

Can the parliamentary secretary assure me that the government will move from words to actions?

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, the answer is yes.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary stated in his speech that the passage of the legislation would provide for a cleaner environment. Could he give us some detail as to how we would get a cleaner environment from the passage of this legislation?

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is important never to underestimate the linkages between public safety and the environment, the air we breathe, the communities we live in and the environment in which our children grow up. It is as much an ecological question as it is a public safety question.

Through the review panel process on the Railway Safety Act, the government has again considered all these varied questions related to safety, including environment, and has come forward with a very solid package, honouring over 80% of the review panel's recommendations, to produce an excellent bill that is unanimously supported by parliamentarians. I hope we will pass it quickly.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for York South—Weston.

First, I am very happy to see this bill before this House, but it is a pity that it has not been a priority of this government in this 41st Parliament. On a number of occasions, the government has boasted that it champions the safety of our fellow Canadians, but let it try to say that to the families of the victims of the derailment in Burlington or to the families who lost their houses in Saint-Charles-de-Bellechasse in 2010. I know very well that the government is going to say that I am playing politics by bringing up a tragedy. We know the government never does that.

The safety of Canadians is important, and this bill is needed in order to protect railway workers, passengers in the trains and people who live near railway lines.

The government, the minister and his parliamentary secretary in particular like to advocate for smaller government, for getting the government out of everyone's business. Large rail companies, shippers that use the rail lines and citizens who live near the railways see that the government does have a role to play. It has a role to play as a regulator, as a protector. All the groups I mentioned want to see this involvement.

Unfortunately, in the ideological zeal of the government, safety and well-being are often left to free market forces to decide. When bad things happen, such as rail accidents and conflicts between land users and railways, we see that the government likes to sweep under the carpet its role when the industry has not regulated itself.

There are examples where the industry does not regulate itself, but as my time for debate is limited, I would like to focus on some propositions we have made since the bill was introduced.

The first proposition from our party is that the government should not cut safety from its budget. The upcoming budget will cut money that could go toward safety. The parliamentary secretary mentioned that the amount of money we spend on something should not be the measure of how effective it is. People who enforce these regulations and develop new systems need to be paid. They need to be remunerated for their work. It is not work that anybody can do. It takes experts to do the work and we have to pay them. We cannot shortchange experts, nor can we cut corners. When corners are cut on safety, we see the results. People working in the transport sector say that when corners are cut, it jeopardizes safety. The government cannot say it defends safety on one hand and then cut it on the other.

We have also asked that the proposed cuts of $200 million to VIA Rail be reversed. VIA Rail has challenges and it needs to implement certain systems. The NDP would like positive train control implemented in Canada. It was done in the United States. In California there was a very tragic accident in 2008 and the leaders decided that positive train control should become part of the system. There are positive benefits to implementing it. Yes, it is costly, but there are companies in Canada that contribute to this technology. Investing in this technology to improve safety would also improve our economy. It would stimulate the innovators who are contributing to positive train control and other technologies that make our railways safer.

We would also like to see voice recorders in locomotives. This would help to find out what happened when things go wrong, when an accident happens. It is in the interests of everyone to find out the full story of what happened during a rail accident so that things can be improved in the future. A key benchmark to improve safety is to figure out what went wrong, to understand what went wrong and to improve things. It is common sense.

There were five amendments submitted to the Senate, two of which were taken off the table. Those two amendments had to do with land use consultations and exemptions to conduct testing. The government's argument is that railways are a federal jurisdiction, but municipalities are the creatures of the province. I agree. I understand the constitutionality of it. However, the government has a role to play in facilitating the communication between a municipality and the rail companies and those parties involved in the railways. An analogous situation would be waterways which are federal entities whereas riparian corridors are provincial entities. It would be in the best interests of everyone to ensure the health of the water system in this case, the rail system in the other, that the two parties have increased communication and that a mechanism is provided for the two parties to communicate.

There is a citizen in the town of Saint-Lazare who lives close to the railway. Her house vibrates whenever a train goes by. People who live near a railway know that their houses will probably vibrate. She is very frustrated that she cannot find a public entity to whom she can complain. She has gone to the private entity and the public entity, but there is no real mechanism to sort out these problems and nip them in the bud once they occur. The problems tend to get larger and larger. Citizens feel helpless. They feel that they cannot do anything about the problem.

We have to invest in railway safety. We have to put our money where our mouth is. The parliamentary secretary said that we can get improved results from spending less money. I would challenge him to cut his salary by $110,000 and try to do his job on $40,000 a year. I would like to see how happy he would be about that. If he thinks he would be just as efficient, why does he not save the taxpayers some money and cut his own salary?

This is an important bill for the NDP. We will support it. We believe it is time the government brought this legislation forward. We would have preferred to see it earlier. We do not think that Canadians should have waited so long for the government to bring these important safety measures to the House. We have a lot of work to do. This is just the beginning.

I have heard from members on the government side that they are interested in safety. I hope their vision of safety includes not only the safety of citizens and people living near railways but also the safety of railway employees. Their safety will be increased through the measures in the bill. We also think that individuals will be protected when they report wrongdoings on the part of their superiors.

The other aspect we are glad to see is with respect to the safety of passengers and motorists, of citizens travelling on the trains, on the roads, and in the surrounding areas. Railway crossings will be enhanced by the higher operational safety standards laid out in the bill.

I hope we can work together with the government to ensure that Canadians are safe when using the railway system as well as in the communities surrounding the rail lines.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the debate we are having on this very important bill.

The original version of the bill left many recommendations for an in-depth inquiry into railway accidents unaddressed. I want to thank the member for Western Arctic for having tabled amendments to former Bill C-33. I congratulate the other place in tabling Bill S-4 with those NDP amendments.

The bill is about safety. The Conservative government ignored repeated calls by the Transportation Safety Board for safety measures such as voice recorders and positive train control. In 2001 and 2003, the Liberal government ignored calls from the Transportation Safety Board for additional rail safety measures. I am wondering if my colleague could elaborate on the need not only to pass this legislation quickly but also to implement it.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, these things tend to be more complex than we paint them. We cannot just make a law and spend money. We have to implement an entire system to improve the safety of the people using it. We cannot just say the words without taking action. Not only do we make laws, but we have to put the money where our mouth is. We have to make sure that the laws are implemented.

When we talk to people in the railway industry, not the people who work on the trains, but the people higher up in the railway industry, they would like to be involved more. We hear a lot about how government should get out of everyone's hair, but a major corporation is asking the government to get involved and to implement these measures to make their lives easier.

When we say the government should not get involved in this, that it does not have a role to play, when accidents happen, when people are put in peril, they lose trust in the system and that does not help the economy at all.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau NDP Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend the hon. member on his excellent speech and on the great work he does as deputy critic for transport.

I would like him to talk about the relevance of moving from talk to action. Contrary to what the parliamentary secretary said earlier, Canada's railway system has been left completely abandoned for 25 years. Fortunately, the authors of the new bill included environmental measures. Today, people want to take better care of the environment and they want to use rail transportation. Why is it important to move from talk to action? What does the hon. member think about the NDP's plan to make rail transportation a priority for all Canadians, from east to west, in urban and rural areas?

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his excellent question.

We are of the opinion that investments must be made in the railway industry, whether it be for passenger or cargo services. We cannot simply say that a crown corporation or private companies must manage themselves and that the government does not have a role to play. If we demonstrate leadership, we have a role to play. Even the railway industry believes that governments should have a role. We often hear the members opposite say that the private sector wants the government to mind its own business, but that is completely untrue. There are times when the private sector wants the government to invest in its industry, make decisions and demonstrate leadership.

For example, the industry would like to be consulted about decisions that affect the municipalities. This falls under provincial jurisdiction, but since railways are federally regulated, the two parties should be communicating, and that is not happening right now.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, this bill is long due for its amendments and I am glad we are doing this.

However, I want to give some historical context of how these kinds of things have come about. I was witness to the Mississauga train derailment in November 1979, and saw out the front window of my house rail cars rising 200 feet in the air as they exploded, three of them, and then fall back to the ground. I was also part of the largest peace-time evacuation anywhere in the world, as the community of Mississauga was evacuated for fear that a whole railcar of chlorine was going to escape into the community.

I raise this because some of the safety regimens that we now have in place were created as a result of horrific accidents, rather than the other way around. Rather than preventing horrific accidents with safety regulations, we wait until there is one and then we bring in regulations. I think that is a little backwards.

The other piece of this puzzle that was created as a result of the Mississauga train derailment was the question of why we were transporting huge quantities of very dangerous goods through residential neighbourhoods. We should not have been doing that. Therefore, the Liberal government of the time put forward something called the Railway Relocation and Crossing Act, and suggested that the government would help railroads move their operations out of heavily built-up areas and into more rural areas. In fact there was a lot of money spent by that Liberal government moving CN Rail's big yards out of the city of Toronto and into an area quite a ways north, whose surrounding area is now completely devoid of housing.

However, the Conservative government of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney then withdrew the funding. The act is still on the books; there is just no money attached to it.

We have this notion that it may be a bad idea to have freight trains running through densely populated areas, but we are not prepared to do anything about it. As the recent derailment of the VIA train shows, anyone or anything that was anywhere near that set of rail cars as they collided into buildings was in grave danger. That is still the case. Even after we pass this railway safety act, we still have the spectre of huge, two-mile long freight trains rumbling through cities like Toronto, and right through our communities and neighbourhoods. In my neighbourhood, it has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous.

The GO Transit folks are building an underpass under a couple of roads for their trains. Their trains are right next door to a CP Rail corridor. In order to protect their trains from a possible CP Rail derailment, they are building a crash barrier wall between the two sets of tracks. Now the houses are closer, but no one is thinking of putting a crash barrier wall anywhere along the corridor between the rail cars and the houses. The view is that we have to protect our infrastructure, this little trench that we are building. GO Transit has to protect that by building a crash barrier wall.

That makes the residents of my neighbourhood realize just how dangerous it is when a big company like GO Transit says it has to protect its investment by building a wall to keep freight trains from hitting its own trains. However, those people who live right alongside that corridor, whose land was expropriated in order to put the corridor closer to their homes, are now quite reasonably worried. They worry about their personal well-being and safety, the safety of their children and their houses.

A couple of years ago a train from Montreal derailed, and that train actually levelled a house. Luckily, no one was in it and no one was injured. However, we are not actually pretending that we are going to pass any regulations in this bill to protect people from that consequence.

This bill actually gives the government considerable power to pass regulations, and those regulations are in fact what will determine how safe our railroads are. The bill actually does some very good things in determining how those regulations will be put into place. However, it is the regulations themselves that we must hold the government's feet to the fire on, to make sure that these regulations are actually effective and administered properly by the government.

I will give the example of the recent derailment of the VIA Rail train in Burlington. Had there been a positive train control system on that train, that accident would not have happened because the train would have been slowed automatically if the driver or the driver's assistant had not paid attention to the signals. That system is in full use in Europe now and is how all trains are managed there.

It is being implemented in the United States starting in 2015, but the operators have been given notice since 2009 that this is coming. As of 2015 all rail systems, particular passenger rail systems that share space with freight, must have positive train control.

CP and CN travel into the U.S., as does VIA Rail. Are they going to have to retrofit their vehicles to be capable of positive train control because they are operating in the U.S.? Therefore, why are we not doing it here in Canada? It makes no sense. That is available through regulation; the government could in fact pass that regulation.

I will cite the bill. The Governor in Council may make regulations respecting “the implementation, as a result of a risk management analysis, of the remedial action required to maintain the highest level of safety”.

Well, the highest level of safety is positive train control. The highest level of safety is what we should be striving for. We should not be striving for something below the highest level of safety. Worldwide, that level of safety is what has become standard. We are the outlier; we are not at the highest level of safety. As was proven unfortunately by the deaths of three VIA Rail employees two weeks ago, that highest level of safety does not apply to Canada. The consequences were tragic.

The parliamentary secretary commented on the fact that rail companies have to get a certificate before they can actually operate. I am aware of at least one rail company starting up in Canada that was given an exemption by the Canadian transportation authority and will not require a certificate and not therefore be bound by this legislation. That is the air-rail link being built from Pearson Airport to Union Station. Why it was given an exemption from having to have a certificate, I really cannot answer, because the Canadian Transportation Agency sometimes acts in mysterious ways. It is a private company. Again, the parliamentary suggested that private companies should be free to run their businesses. However, as a public duty, we have to make sure that we implement safety regulations that protect the public. One cannot do that if one gives them exemptions. If one exempts them from being a railroad under the Canadian Transportation Agency, who then provides the safety? How does that happen?

The other piece of the puzzle, of course, is voice recorders in train cabs. They are not a piece of safety equipment per se but are an effective way of determining exactly what happened so that we can make the system safer later.

The train cabs currently have speed control recorders. In the conversations I have had with drivers they all know that those recorders are there and that drivers can be fired for violating the effective speed control on the pieces of track they are on. It is clear that their bosses can figure out exactly how fast they were going at any given time, so they pay close attention to what their speed should be as a result of there being a speed recorder.

The same would be true of a voice recorder. They would pay much closer attention to what is said and done in the cab and focus on their job more.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture

Mr. Speaker, this is definitely an important bill as it deals with rail safety. This is certainly not the first time we have seen a version of this bill in front of Parliament.

I listened to my colleague and his earlier colleague speak about funding for rail safety. I think the NDP has a very checkered past in supporting rail safety. I point out that in 2009 our government had included a $71 million increase for safety in the budget, but the NDP voted against that and now we have a bill in front of Parliament.

I am glad to hear that the NDP supports this bill. What I want is confirmation that it does, indeed, support this bill and that it will not delay its passage.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, we do support it and we will not delay it.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, rail is really important. There is an organization called the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains, based out of Sault Ste. Marie, which has been very actively pushing its vision for passenger trains in northern Ontario. I can tell the House that the East Algoma chiefs, mayors and reeves have been working very closely with it in trying to get that to go forward. We hope that the government will give some consideration to the need to implement passenger trains across northern Ontario because we do not have a lot of public transportation there.

I noticed that my colleague across the way mentioned that the New Democrats did not support previous funding for rail, but what he neglected to say was that the reason we did not support the budget was that it contained poison pills.

My colleague talked about rail safety and I am wondering if he could elaborate on the exemptions that he spoke about on the air-rail link. I ask because I tend to think that we still have a lot of work to do in this area.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent question. I was as shocked as anyone to discover that the Canadian Transportation Agency had in fact exempted what is being touted as a world-class railway. It will be the only diesel railway on the planet between an airport and a downtown. It is being touted as world class and it is now seeking and being given an exemption from the regulations governing railroads in this country. I am astounded that the Canadian Transportation Agency, an agency of the government, would in fact exempt any railroad in Canada from the regulations, particularly one that goes through heavily-populated areas of the city of Toronto and for which safety should be paramount.

We note there have been some changes to who will be the operator of this railroad. Therefore, there will need to be a second application to the Canadian Transportation Agency and perhaps this time it will make sure that they are regulated.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member gave a very cogent presentation, in which he talked not only about what is in the bill on paper but also the needed commitment from the government to actually implement and enforce the bill, which is equally important.

I note that in his 2011 report, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development found profound problems with Transport Canada in its failure to effectively inspect and enforce, including following up and ensuring that emergency response assistance plans were effective and in place. I also note that the legislation allows for further exemptions. I wonder if the member could speak to the fact that we need not only good, strong, improved legislation, which New Democrats support, but also to have it effectively enforced.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Clearly, Mr. Speaker, if we pass the best laws in the land and do not enforce them, there is no reason to pass them. This is a very good bill, but the member is absolutely right that without the mechanisms to enforce it and the personnel or employees at Transport Canada going forward, as they will do, and inspecting the rails and rail carriers and their adherence to pollution requirements, which is also part of this bill, then we will have wasted our time in passing this bill.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Toet Conservative Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak today about our government's efforts to improve the safety of Canada's national railway system through the safer railways act. For my riding of Elmwood—Transcona, the name Transcona comes from “transcontinental“ which is one of the CN line's main facilities that was put into my riding many years ago. So the background of my riding is very much historically involved with the rail industry.

These amendments have been supported from the outset by all stakeholders. The government introduced a similar bill, an act to amend the railway safety act, on June 4, 2010. Also known as Bill C-33, it was studied by the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. It was approved unanimously by the committee, with minor changes, on March 10, 2011 and reported to the other House on March 11, 2011. However, the opposition prioritized politics over the safety of Canadians. This bill died on the order paper on March 25, 2011, with the call of an election.

During the second reading debate on Bill S-4, members in the other place shared personal stories concerning the economic and environmental damage and personal tragedies that had resulted from rail accidents in their own jurisdictions. Their reactions to the proposed amendments were very positive. I believe our shared support of this important safety legislation reflects a common desire to ensure our national railway system, which is one of the most important components of our economic infrastructure, remains one of the safest in the world for the long-term benefit of our economy, our communities and our environment. The safety and prosperity of Canadians is of paramount importance to us all.

Bill S-4, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to the Canada Transportation Act, was introduced in the other place on November 1, 2011. This bill was studied by the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications and approved unanimously by the committee with one amendment. It was reported to the other place on November 24, 2011. By reintroducing proposed amendments to the Railway Safety Act, the government is reiterating its commitment to a safe and secure national rail transportation system, not only to communities across the country but also to Canada's economic well-being and its vision to further improve rail safety and environmental protection.

Before going further, I would like to remind hon. members of the origins and purpose of this bill. For many years, the safety of Canada's federal railways was regulated under the Railway Act, originated at the turn of the century when Canada's railway system was rapidly expanding. The Railway Act was designed for an older era. At that time, much of the national rail system was under construction to open up new territory and to encourage settlement. In 1989, the Railway Act was replaced by the Railway Safety Act, which was designed to achieve the objectives of the national transportation policy relating to the safety of railway operations and to address the many changes that had taken place in the rail transportation industry in recent years. It was a time of privatization and restructuring, supported by a new federal policy that separated economic and safety legislation to provide the railway companies with the flexibility they needed to prosper.

The Railway Safety Act gave direct jurisdiction over safety matters to the Minister of Transport, to be administered by Transport Canada where responsibility for other federally regulated modes of transportation resides. Today, economic regulation of the rail industry is guided by the Canada Transportation Act, which provides an overall framework to ensure a national transportation system that is competitive, economic and efficient. That act, which came into effect in 1996, also established the Canadian Transportation Agency which is responsible for dispute resolution and economic regulation of all modes of transport under federal jurisdiction, including rail.

Rail safety regulation, on the other hand, is governed by the Railway Safety Act which was developed in the spirit of co-operation between industry and government. The Railway Safety Act moved away from a fully prescriptive regulatory approach to one that recognized the responsibility of railway companies for the safety of their own operations.

At the same time, the federal government, through Transport Canada, retained the responsibility and the power to protect people, property and the environment by ensuring that the railway companies operate safely within the national framework. Transport Canada undertakes its responsibility to maintain a safe national rail system through policy and regulatory development, outreach and education, and oversight and enforcement of the rules and regulations it implements under the authority of the Railway Safety Act.

Applied in tandem, the Railway Safety Act and the Canada Transportation Act have successfully guided the growth of Canada's rail sector since the 1990s. But there are issues. As it stands today, the interrelationship of the Railway Safety Act and the Canada Transportation Act has created a notable gap in rail safety oversight that must be addressed if we are to ensure the continued safety of our national railway industry.

Following a review of the Railway Safety Act in 1994, the act was amended in 1999 to further improve the legislation and to make the railway systems even safer. Those amendments were designed to fully modernize the legislative and regulatory framework of Canada's rail transportation system. They were also designed to make railway companies more responsible for managing their operations safely. They gave the general public and interested parties a greater say on issues of rail safety.

The fundamental principles on which the regulation of railway safety in Canada is based are: to promote and provide for the safety of the public and personnel, and the protection of property and the environment in the operation of railways; to encourage the collaboration and participation of interested parties in improving railway safety; to recognize the responsibility of railway companies in ensuring the safety of their operations; and finally, to facilitate a modern, flexible and efficient regulatory scheme that will ensure the continuing enhancement of our railway safety.

The 1999 amendments to the Railway Safety Act aimed to help achieve these objectives by providing for the safety of the public and personnel and the protection of property, and the environment in the operation of railways; and by providing the regulator with the authority to require railway companies to implement safety management systems.

In 2007 the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities launched a review of the Railway Safety Act following a series of devastating train derailments that had caused the death of loved ones, the disruption of businesses, and the serious pollution of trackside lakes, rivers and communities.

An independent panel conducted a review of the existing Railway Safety Act. This review was intended to identify possible gaps and make recommendations for improving railway safety. The panel of experts commissioned research and held extensive public consultations across the country.

Over the course of a year that panel travelled from coast to coast gathering input from a full spectrum of concerned stakeholders, including the railway companies and their association, the railway unions, shippers, suppliers, municipalities, other national organizations, other levels of government and the public. Interest in the consultations was high and all key stakeholders participated.

The panel's final report, “Stronger Ties: A Shared Commitment to Railway Safety”, was tabled in the House by the Minister of Transport in March 2008. In the report the panellists noted that although the Railway Safety Act and its principles were fundamentally sound, more work was needed. A number of legislative improvements were required. The report contained 56 recommendations to improve rail safety in Canada.

The standing committee, which also conducted extensive stakeholder consultations, accepted the panel's recommendations and tabled its own report in the House in May 2008 with 14 recommendations, many of which built on those of the Railway Safety Act review.

Both reports identified key areas for improvement and recommended increasing Transport Canada's resources to allow it to strengthen its oversight and enforcement capacity and to implement new safety initiatives.

Transport Canada agrees with the recommendations of these reports. It has taken steps to action them through a variety of government, industry and union initiatives, and through the proposed legislative amendments to the Railway Safety Act which are required to address key recommendations and enable many safety initiatives.

The proposed amendments would significantly modernize the current Railway Safety Act to reflect changes in the industry and provide for higher levels of oversight and enforcement. The key elements and advantages of the bill are clear and would include: a stronger oversight and enforcement capacity for Transport Canada through the introduction of safety-based railway operating certificates and monetary fines for safety violations, as well as an increase in existing judicial penalties to reflect the levels found in other modes of transport; a significantly stronger focus on the importance of railway accountability and safety management systems, which both industry and labour applaud; a clarification of the minister's authority on matters of railway safety to bridge existing gaps in the act; and, an expansion of regulation-making authorities which have particular importance and would enable Transport Canada to require annual environmental management plans from the railways as well as a requirement for railways to provide emissions labelling on equipment and emissions data for review.

In sum, these proposed amendments to the act would improve rail safety in Canada for the long term. They are the culmination of two important studies and extensive consultations. They provide increased safety for Canadians and Canadian communities; economic benefits to the industry by decreasing the likelihood of costly accidents and delays; a variety of benefits to external stakeholders, including provinces, municipalities, shippers and the travelling public; and last, but far from least, support for a stronger economy, a modern infrastructure and a cleaner environment for all Canadians.

The Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, the same committee that launched its own review of rail safety and made many of the recommendations reflected in this bill, has examined the contents of these proposed amendments thoroughly. It has given the bill its unanimous blessing with only a few minor adjustments.

During this examination, the committee heard strong support for this bill from a number of key stakeholders, including railways, the unions and municipalities. Clearly, this bill has been analyzed and consulted on exhaustively. It is our responsibility to move forward with the passing of this legislation.

This bill has already gained widespread support. Witnesses before the committee expressed strong support for the implementation of safety-based railway operating certificates for railways that run on federal track. These certificates would significantly strengthen Transport Canada's oversight capacity and ensure that all companies have an effective safety management system in place before beginning operations. Companies that are already in operation would be granted a two year grace period to meet the requirements for their certificate. This would include all federally regulated railways as well as several of our largest national transit systems that use hundreds of miles of federal track and carry millions of Canadians to and from work daily. Increased safety for these travellers would be a significant benefit for businesses, communities and families.

Witnesses before the committee also expressed their support for the introduction of monetary penalties and an increase in judicial fines for serious contraventions of safety regulations. Monetary penalties already exist in other modes of transport. They serve as a complementary enforcement tool to existing notices and orders and provide additional leverage on companies that persist in safety violations. The proposed increase in judicial fines, established 20 years ago, would also strengthen Transport Canada's enforcement options and bring those fines to a level currently found in other modes.

Witnesses before the committee also spoke of the significant improvements contained in the bill, particularly for the implementation of safety management systems. There was strong support for the introduction of a requirement for a designated executive legally responsible for safety issues.

There was also strong support for an introduction of whistleblower protection for railway employees who raised safety concerns. In fact, support for this was sufficiently strong that the committee approved an amendment to the bill that would provide additional safety reporting options for employees, including direct reporting to Transport Canada. Amendments such as these will help the growth of a strong safety culture in railway companies.

I would like to point out that the expansion of reporting options for safety violations was the only significant amendment made by the committee to the original version of the bill that was referred to it after second reading. There were seven other amendments made by the committee, all of which were minor technical adjustments and clarifications of definitions.

Personally, this is a very impressive achievement, as very few bills make it through committee with such overwhelming accord.

Finally, the committee heard strong support to move the bill forward as quickly as possible so we could begin implementing an enhanced railway safety regime that would clearly benefit industry, benefit labour, benefit communities and benefit the Canadian public.

Without these amendments, the government's ability to effectively regulate railway companies in an environment of continued growth and increasing complexity would be sorely diminished. Improvement to Transport Canada's regulatory oversight and enforcement programs would be limited. The pursuit of new safety initiatives, with respect to safety management systems and environmental management, would be badly constrained. The legislative framework for railways would remain inconsistent with other transportation modes, which have a broader range of enforcement tools. Regulation-making authorities could not be expanded to allow for the creation of safety-based operating certificates and increased environmental protection.

Members' support for the bill will result in fewer long-term costs for the government and Canadians, due to reduced fatalities, serious injuries and damage to both property and the environment. There is no controversy over the intent or the content of the bill. We all want better railway safety in our country. This bill is the blueprint to ensure that we can achieve that.

The legislation would strengthen the national rail system that is so vital to our economy. By reducing the risk of accidents, we would enhance the competitiveness of our railways, increase the public safety of Canadians and add an additional layer or protection for our natural environment.

These amendments are a priority for the government. Canada's railways are vitally important to the national economy and are the most fuel-efficient form of transport for the movement of goods in our interdependent transportation system. Our railways have 73,000 kilometres of track stretching from coast to coast, more than 3,000 locomotives and handle more than 4 million carloads of freight. They operate more than 700 trains per day, moving nearly 70 million passengers and 75% of all surplus freight in the country. The railways were the foundation of our national growth in the past. They remain integral to our prosperity in the future.

Since the launch of the Railway Safety Act review in 2007, Transport Canada has worked continuously with stakeholders, through an advisory council on railway safety, joint technical working groups and individual consultations across the country to ensure the bill will meet the needs of all parties engaged in the rail industry.

We believe these proposed amendments are essential in timely. They respond directly to the recommendations of two important studies on rail safety that involved the high level of participation from all key stakeholders in the rail sector.

The bill has been exhaustively debated and analyzed for several years. It has received widespread support from all interested parties. It is now time to move forward with the passing of this important legislation for the safety of all Canadians.

We are modernizing the Railway Safety Act to reflect the requirements of a growing and increasingly complex rail industry, and these are changes all Canadians can agree upon.

I move:

That this question be now put.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I note the member for Elmwood—Transcona is a member of the transportation committee and I appreciate his work there, but I would like to ask him in specific terms about his reference to environmental improvements as a result of the bill.

As he is probably aware, the railway companies in Canada have a memorandum of understanding with Environment Canada, not with Transport Canada, as far as their engine emissions go. The engines themselves pollute dramatically. They are full of nitrous oxide and particulate matter. There is a movement in North America, led usually in the United States, to reduce the amount of pollutants that will be released into the atmosphere by the engines of railway companies.

Could the member tell us how this bill would improve that?

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Toet Conservative Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the question really is one of ultimately improving the emissions of the locomotives themselves. However, the key issue is environmental protection as far as safety on the railways goes. When we have derailments, accidents and collisions, there is a very negative impact on the environment, which could be to rivers, or lakes. It could have a very negative impact on being close to homes.

Earlier the member talked about how some of these lines ran very close to residential communities and about his desire to have greater protection for those residential communities. The bill would address those impacts on the environment in a very great way because it would significantly reduce the opportunities for accidents, which would protect our environment from spills that could occur from these accidents.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments of the member. I know the CN yards and so forth make up a good portion of the member's riding.

Rail safety is a huge concern for all people, all the different stakeholders. It is good to see this bill. We believe it will have an impact.

I wonder if the member could look into the future. Western Canada has been growing in terms of its population. There is a need to look at the possibility of where additional rail services could be offered through western Canada. One of the examples I used earlier was that VIA did not go through Regina and that people had to go through Saskatoon. Many people would welcome the opportunity to see expansion within the train industry.

Could the member share some of his thoughts in regard to the growth in western Canada and the future of railway in that area of the country?

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Toet Conservative Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the bill actually deals more with the safety aspects. The expansion of railway services or passenger rail services is really not part of the bill.

Being from western Canada, I would support seeing some growth and expansion of railway services, both freight and passenger. However, one of the key elements that was touched on was the fact that there was growth in the rail industry, and we have seen great growth. I have witnessed it in my own riding.

We have a lot of communities growing around what were originally the yards. I think of the yards in Transcona that were built in an isolated part outside of the city. Now the city has grown around them. We have this great infrastructure already in place and we want to maintain that. Therefore, it is important we have the safety measures in place to protect those residential areas that have grown around those kinds of infrastructures.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague spoke about the safety of Canadians and indicated this was paramount to the government. I am sure he is aware that not a lot of changes were made in Bill S-4. A lot of work was done when it used to be Bill C-33, and the amendments were made by the NDP member for Western Arctic.

On that note, I would like to indicate that there are a lot of rail systems throughout northern Ontario. A number of those rail cars carry dangerous contents, so we see this as a very positive move. Could my colleague speak about the fact that there are still exemptions available to rail companies on this matter? If we talk about the safety of Canadians as a whole, we need to recognize that there should not be any exemptions at all when it comes to the well-being and safety and security of Canadians. Could he elaborate on the fact that there are exceptions from safety regulations that protect the public under the bill?

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Toet Conservative Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very glad to hear that she and her party are supportive of the bill and that we can move forward with it so we have greater safety and protection for the Canadian public. The bill goes a long way in moving us in the direction we need to go. Being supported by industry, the unions, across the board by all stakeholders, goes to show that we have come up with a bill that can be used for protection of all members of our society.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, the other piece of the puzzle is the regulations that may ensue. As the member is aware, there has been a renewed call in Canada for positive train control to be implemented as soon as humanly possible, given the recent accident in Burlington and other accidents that have happened in the past. As he is also aware, the federal railroad administration in the United States has already moved in that direction.

Would the member like to comment as to whether his government will be proceeding with regulations on this matter?

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Toet Conservative Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy the member is pleased with the bill before us and that we are moving in a positive direction for the safety and protection of Canadians.

Regarding positive train control, we are monitoring the development of positive train control in the United States. However, we also realize and understand that it is experiencing some delays due to some technical challenges. We will continue to monitor that situation.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I really appreciate the fact that the member spoke to this very important issue. We all know that Jim Maloway, who was the NDP MP for Elmwood—Transcona, spoke on any issue because he was so knowledgeable.

When it comes to rail, this is extremely important. VIA Rail comes through my riding as well. I am very pleased to see the safety aspect, but when it comes to passenger trains, could he elaborate as to why his government would have large cuts, probably about $200 million, to VIA Rail when passenger rail is the important piece we need to have in our communities?

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Toet Conservative Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I can assure the member that I will never speak as many words as my predecessor. I will allow the rest of the members of the House to have an opportunity to also speak once in a while.

In regard to her question, it is important that we look at the railway safety aspect of things. The bottom line is safety for passengers, safety for residential neighbourhoods and safety and protection of our environment. The bill addresses that.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine.

It is a pleasure to speak to Bill S-4, the safer railways act. I would like to reiterate the comments I made this morning. Very often the opposition stands in the House and criticizes the government, as is our job to do and as is very often necessary in this place. However, it is also important to give credit where credit is due. I want to congratulate the government and the minister in particular on bringing forward a piece of legislation which is much needed, well crafted and will accomplish a great deal on railway safety in this country.

Our party's late leader, Jack Layton, used to talk about it being necessary to propose as often as oppose. The corollary to that is it is important to compliment and criticize when each is due.

The bill has been 20 years in the making. The reason the bill is in as good a shape as it is the approach that was used on this legislation. All Canadians would like to see more of that approach. The government sat down and consulted with industry, labour, and stakeholders of many different stripes. Government members sat in committee, listened to expert testimony and worked with the official opposition and all parties to make improvements to the legislation. Once again I want to thank the government and point out that its good work has resulted in a piece of legislation that is improved because of that approach. I might suggest that the government follow this procedure more often. I think it is something Canadians want to see.

The bill seeks to modify the Railway Safety Act to do a number of things. It improves the oversight capacity of the Department of Transport. It requires railway companies to obtain the safety-based railway operating certificate that indicates compliance with regulatory requirements.

The bill strengthens the department's enforcement powers by introducing administrative monetary penalties and increasing court-enforced penalties. It enhances the role of safety management systems by including a provision for the identification of a railway executive who would be legally responsible for safety, and a whistleblower protection system for employees of railway companies who raise safety concerns. I will talk about that very important aspect in a moment.

The bill clarifies the authority and responsibilities of the Minister of Transport with respect to railway matters. It expands regulation-making authorities and clarifies the process for rule making by railway companies.

By way of background, Bill S-4 was introduced on October 6, 2011 in the Senate by the leader of the government there. Bill S-4 is virtually identical to former Bill C-33, which was introduced in the House of Commons during the third session of the 40th Parliament.

Bill C-33 was studied by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, and was reported back to the House of Commons with amendments in March 2011. Unfortunately, the bill died on the order paper when the general election was called later that month.

The text of Bill S-4 incorporates the amendments adopted by the standing committee and otherwise differs from Bill C-33 only by the addition of one new paragraph and some minor changes in wording.

The bill was reported back to the Senate by the Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications with that one amendment in November 2011. The bill was sent back to this House where it received first reading in December of last year.

The Railway Safety Act was implemented in 1989. The act sets out a regulatory framework for railways under federal jurisdiction to address matters of safety, security and environmental impact. Transport Canada notes that the Canadian rail industry has changed significantly since the act was amended in 1999 and operations have become increasingly complex and traffic is growing rapidly. Therefore, this bill is timely.

I mentioned earlier that labour supports the bill. I want to mention a couple of things which I think labour was instrumental in achieving.

Labour made several key important points.

It wanted to see better fatigue management. That aspect is addressed in the bill.

It wanted to see greater whistleblower protection. In particular, it wanted to see a process of non-punitive reporting whereby railway employees could report their safety concerns directly to Transport Canada and not to a company manager. If workers identified any defects or safety problems, they could without fear go directly to Transport Canada. There had been a problem. Some railway workers feared being disciplined. Some had been disciplined by companies for nothing more than reporting their safety concerns. This is a positive legislative change.

Some railway workers say that they do not want to rely on good luck and gravity for railway safety. They want to rely on careful attention to detail, and swift and accurate reporting of problems so that accidents do not occur and problems can be identified before something happens.

Bill Brehl, the president of Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, maintenance of way employees division, did stand-up work in pushing for the amendments to this bill and for the overall concept of railway safety to be included in the legislation. Rex Beatty, president of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, locomotive engineers, and Rob Smith, the national legislative director of that same body, also played pivotal roles in this piece of legislation.

This also shows how important it is to involve experts and Canadians from coast to coast, to bring to bear in this House their experience, knowledge and expertise. It helps make better legislation. This will make life safer not only for all Canadians, but for the thousands of women and men who work every day on the trains, tracks and rolling stock to keep them in shape.

There are some areas that need improvement. At-grade crossings are a problem in this country. Greater control of trespassing is still a problem which I do not think this bill fully addresses. The issue of track and metal fatigue is not fully addressed by the bill.

In terms of at-grade crossings, approximately 100 people per year are killed in railway accidents. Accidents happen frequently at the at-grade crossings. There are several ways to address this. We could raise the crossings, which is an expensive but effective way to go. We could bring in an automatic train stopping mechanism, as Sweden has done. There are automatic metal detectors and if a vehicle is on the tracks at an at-grade crossing, the train will automatically slow and stop in advance. That is something I would encourage the government to look at and implement as soon as possible.

With respect to trespassing, we need to fence off tracks especially in urban areas, which are places of death and injury. People trespass and get on the tracks, even though they should not.

Last, in terms of track maintenance and metal fatigue, there is no requirement to establish the fatigue life of rails. There are no common industry standards for rail life based on tonnage, defects or steel quality. For a country that relies so heavily on rail, we should be ensuring that we have state of the art world-class standards in this area. We can do more and better in this area.

In 2005 there was a derailment of a train near Wabamun Lake in Alberta. A report pointed out that the railway track safety rules do not provide any guidance on fatigue life, nor are there any common industry standards for rail life based on the state of the metal used on the tracks. A clear recommendation of the Transportation Safety Board was to establish those standards to ensure that the tracks upon which our trains roll are in the best shape possible.

I would like to conclude by thanking members of the committee on all sides of the House, and in particular the good work of our member for Western Arctic. He did such great work in pushing productively, proactively and in a non-partisan way for greater standards in the act.

I congratulate the government on bringing forward a piece of legislation that has the support of all parties of the House. It is a testament to a non-partisan, co-operative way of working together to get the job done which results in good legislation that every Canadian wants to see.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague mentioned the need for positive train control. Positive train control would have avoided three deaths and a serious amount of damage in Burlington not too long ago where a train was going too fast for the tracks. No one knows exactly why because there was no voice recorder. There are two issues, the voice recorder and the positive train control, neither of which is part of this legislation.

The minister could make regulations enforcing positive train control and voice recorders mandatory. Would the member like to comment on whether the minister should or should not do that?

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, absolutely the minister should continue along the path he set which is a very analytical and studied way to improve rail safety. That would include positive train control.

I note that both Canadian National Railways and Canadian Pacific are very healthy financially. They routinely turn over $1 billion or more in profits a year. I think they have the economic strength to bring in the mechanisms and new technology that would result in saving lives. Positive train control cannot be introduced soon enough. I would hope that the minister would look at requiring such controls in the regulations. Industry can afford it. Safety demands it. The government should be committed to it.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank my colleague for his excellent speech, for his very appropriate and pertinent comments. Indeed, safety is very important. When it comes to railways, safety definitely cannot be neglected.

My riding of Drummond is fortunate to have VIA Rail service, which goes right through downtown Drummondville. However, this comes with some disadvantages. Vehicular traffic has decreased because cars have to wait for the train to pass, which can take a long time when it is a freight train, or when it is a passenger train and passengers have to embark or disembark.

All that to say that safety must remain a top priority and the legislation must be strengthened. Everything must be done properly in committee. Does my colleague believe that, in committee, good reforms and good amendments to this bill can be proposed in order to create legislation that will improve the safety of Canadians, including those who take the train?

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is my understanding that the committee has been working very well because members from all parties are getting informed on the subject matter. They are making positive suggestions and the government is listening. Again I want to commend the government for listening and taking those amendments into account. It does not always happen in this place. There are a number of examples where we quite rightfully criticized the government for not taking into account positive suggestions that would make legislation stronger. It is important that we applaud the government when it does do so.

The recent tragedy in Burlington where three VIA Rail employees were killed and 42 passengers were injured is a stark reminder that more needs to be done, particularly with VIA Rail. That investigation is in its early stages, but early indications suggest that speed and a lack of signals inside the train may have played a role. This reinforces what the New Democrats have long said, that although railways in Canada are relatively safe, tragic accidents can and still do occur. These preventable accidents should be avoided at all costs. The federal government has a key role to play in the effort to make train travel safe.

Once again, I would like to see the bill passed. We need to continue to work in this area at the committee stage and with the regulations. Through working together we can ensure that Canada has the best and the safest rail transportation system in the world.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Isabelle Morin NDP Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise here today to speak to Bill S-4, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to the Canada Transportation Act. My riding has an abundance of train tracks that are used by CP, CN and commuter trains. I think it is very important that we take the time to debate this bill, which is a very good bill, as my colleague said. I would like to talk about it a little more, so that the people of my riding really understand what it is all about.

The purpose of the bill is to improve the oversight capacity of the Department of Transport by, for example, requiring railway companies to obtain a safety-based railway operating certificate indicating compliance with regulatory requirements; strengthen the Department of Transport’s enforcement powers by introducing administrative monetary penalties and increasing fines; enhance the role of safety management systems by including provisions for a railway executive who is accountable for safety and a non-punitive reporting system for employees of railway companies; clarify the authority and responsibilities of the Minister of Transport with respect to railway matters; and expand regulation-making powers, including in respect of environmental management, and clarify the process for rule making by railway companies.

Allow me to provide some context for what we are talking about today. In 1989, the Railway Safety Act was born. Seven years later, the Canada Transportation Act was passed. Consideration was subsequently given to re-examining the Railway Safety Act, but the idea was abandoned at the time. Then, in 2000, we started seeing many railway accidents. From 2000 to 2005, there was an increase in the number of incidents, deaths and damage caused by railway accidents. In 2006, the government decided to begin a review of the Railway Safety Act. In May 2008, the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities made a number of recommendations after studying the issue. In 2010, Bill C-33, which was more or less the same as this one, unfortunately died on the order paper. Finally, there was a Senate bill, which reproduced roughly everything that was in Bill C-33.

All members of our party support this bill. The NDP has often promoted railway safety. We are talking about lives and injured people. We will definitely support a bill that will improve rail safety.

The NDP fully supports the fact that the bill would provide additional powers to more closely regulate the rail system in Canada. However, we find that the bill does not contain concrete measures to achieve that. We are putting pressure on the government to make voice recorders in locomotive cabs and positive train control systems mandatory.

I will explain how a positive train control system works. If a train is going too fast, this system makes it possible to slow down the train remotely. On February 26, there was a train accident in Burlington, Ontario, that killed three people and injured 42. This should never have happened. We know that speed was a factor, but unfortunately we do not know much more than that. We do not know why or who decided this train was travelling too fast. An automatic safety system would have made it possible to control this train and reduce its speed. This accident killed three Canadians—VIA Rail employees—and could have been prevented.

Voice recorders are mandatory for planes and ships, but for some unknown reason they are not mandatory for trains.

Basically, if there had been a voice recorder in the locomotive, we would know what really happened on February 26 and we might be in a position to prevent this type of accident in the future.

In my riding, the train tracks are very close to the houses of my constituents, within a few metres. There are laws about that, and the houses are built at the minimum distance required by law. That worries me.

The railway system in Canada is very safe. We live in a very safe country and we are careful, but improvements have to be made. There are still some shortcomings that allow accidents like the one on February 26 to happen. That was a passenger train. In my riding, many trains that carry hazardous materials also pass through. A speed control system and a voice recording system would enable us to go even further.

I am not really going to say more about it. On this side of the House, we are definitely in favour of the bill, and all the parties involved agree that our country's safety is very important.

Let me reiterate that I am in favour of this bill and pleased that it was introduced. That could have been done earlier. We have gone through a number of stages and we have taken some time before considering the matter. I am really pleased now that the Senate has proposed a bill that will improve our country's railway safety. I also hope that we will be able to go further by perhaps including the two solutions suggested by the NDP.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is always a privilege to address the House, particularly so when important issues such as the safety of Canadians, the protection of our environment and the efficiency of our economic infrastructure are on the table, as they are today.

As my hon. colleagues have recently emphasized, the government is committed to the safety and security of Canadians and Canadian communities and to a safe, dependable and modern transportation system to support the continuing well-being and prosperity of this country.

We cannot claim to have instant solutions for every new challenge that arises. Nobody can. However, as we have demonstrated time and time again, we are always willing to work openly and transparently in consultation with stakeholders and Canadians to ensure that the solutions and initiatives we develop are those this country needs to safely flourish and grow.

I believe the Safer Railways Act, brought forward today, is a fitting testimony to the success of our approach.

When the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities launched the Railway Safety Act review in 2007, Canada had recently suffered a series of devastating trail derailments that had caused the death of loved ones, the disruption of businesses, and a serious pollution of track-side lakes, rivers and communities.

During the course of extensive inspections and audits undertaken by Transport Canada following these accidents, the regulator identified numerous deficiencies that contributed to decreased safety levels, including non-compliance by the railway companies with various safety requirements.

There was a general concern with the level of the railways' compliance with regulations. Accordingly, the terms of reference for this Railway Safety Act review specifically directed the independent panel to examine the adequacy of Transport Canada's enforcement powers and to consider whether administrative monetary penalties should be added to the range of enforcement powers available to the department.

The minister appointed an independent advisory panel in January of 2007 to lead the review of the Railway Safety Act. This panel was given the clear mandate to uncover gaps in the Railway Safety Act and make recommendations that would make the regulatory regime more robust and adaptable to the railway industry and its operations.

The panel conducted extensive consultations across the country with railway companies, all levels of government, labour, shippers and suppliers. This approach ensured that subsequent recommendations would take into account the appropriate range of perspectives on rail safety issues. Consultations and careful consideration of these issues were carried out during the year-long course of the review and resulted in the advisory panel making a series of recommendations.

It is important to note that our government took immediate action to implement many of these recommendations. At present, Transport Canada has implemented eight internal recommendations, industry has implemented three, and the final 21 recommendations involve the legislative changes that we are discussing today.

Furthermore, an advisory council on railway safety was created, as well as a Transport Canada-industry-union steering committee and six technical working groups. These groups successfully bring together relevant stakeholders to address rail safety issues in a collaborative manner.

I specifically wish to discuss a key recommendation by the advisory panel upon its examination of the Railway Safety Act. The panel uncovered that Transport Canada's enforcement powers under the Railway Safety Act need to be strengthened to encourage better regulatory compliance, increase safety, and help prevent further incidents like those that originally triggered this review.

The independent panel's final recommendation on the issue, as detailed in its report of March 2008, plainly stated that “an administrative monetary penalty scheme should be included in the Railway Safety Act as an additional compliance tool” to enhance safety in the rail industry.

The government fully agrees with the panel's assessment, and the introduction of a scheme for administrative monetary penalties has been included as an important and integral part of this comprehensive package of safety amendments to the Railway Safety Act.

Administrative monetary penalties are certainly not new in the transportation sector. They were successfully introduced in the air industry in 1986 and were subsequently introduced in the marine industry in 1991.

Penalties of this nature have been introduced in the transportation industry because they work. In simplest terms, administrative monetary penalties are similar to traffic tickets for car drivers. When a company or individual breaks a rule or does not comply with a regulation, the department can impose a pre-established administrative monetary penalty or fine to help encourage compliance in the future.

Administrative monetary penalties have other safety benefits as well. With an administrative monetary penalty scheme in place, there is the perception of fairness because the operator knows in advance the cost of non-compliance and it is applied uniformly. Penalties can also be applied more uniformly as there is less discretion for giving warnings and therefore less opportunity for inconsistency.

Under the current Railway Safety Act, Transport Canada's options for enforcing non-compliance are limited. When a violation is found during the course of an inspection or audit, an inspector will normally issue a letter of non-compliance and follow up in a given time frame to verify that corrective action has been taken. If the situation has not been corrected, the regulator has only one option, prosecution, which is both costly and time consuming and therefore ineffective for a large number of violations. This is a significant weakness in the current enforcement scheme of the act.

We believe that administrative monetary penalties should be implemented as an additional enforcement tool under the act to provide an efficient, effective and less costly alternative to prosecution, particularly in the case of persistent non-compliance with safety requirements established under the act. This is consistent with the principles of minimizing the regulatory burden for Canadians while, at the same time, promoting regulatory compliance.

Of course, in interests of fairness for all parties, the proposed administrative penalty scheme would allow for a review of the regulator's penalty decisions by the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada. The scheme would also include provisions related to the minister's decision to impose a penalty, the due process to be followed, the review of decisions by the appeal tribunal and the level of fines to be paid for non-compliance infractions. Maximum levels for administrative monetary penalties would be $50,000 for an individual and $250,000 for a corporation, which is consistent with similar schemes in other modes of transport.

In addition to the implementation of an administrative monetary penalty scheme to improve railway compliance, we propose, through these amendments, to raise existing judicial penalty levels, which were established 20 years ago and are no longer consistent with those in other modes of transport. Maximum judicial fines for convictions on indictment for a contravention of the act would increase from $200,000 to $1 million for corporations and from $10,000 to $50,000 for individuals. Maximum fines on summary conviction for contravention of the act would increase from $100,000 to $500,000 for corporations and from $5,000 to $25,000 for an individual. These levels are consistent with other modes of transport, including air and marine, and the transport of dangerous goods in all modes under federal jurisdiction and reflect our view of what constitutes an effective deterrent to safety violations.

Implementing administrative monetary penalties as proposed in the safer railways act is clearly an important step in the development of an effective railway safety regime with sufficient scope and strength to ensure that our railways are safe and that they remain safe for the long term, as the railway industry continues to evolve and grow.

Administrative monetary penalties are not a stopgap measure. They were recommended by the Railway Safety Act review panel because they are a proven solution for improved compliance and safety requirements in the transport industry. Improved compliance means better safety for all Canadians and Canadian communities and a stronger foundation for our national transport system and economy for years to come.

The time is now to adopt this bill and move forward with further strengthening of the safety of our railway system. This bill has been consulted on and analyzed for several years and has received widespread approval and applause by all key industry stakeholders as well as members of both this House and the other place. I urge my colleagues to recognize that the time for debate has passed and, in the name of the safety and security of Canadians, the timely passage of this legislation is vital.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, we agree that the time for this bill to pass is right now. We believe it could have been sooner and hoped it would have been sooner and that it would have been priority number one of the government, the safety of Canadians.

In the submission to the Senate, five amendments were submitted. Three were taken off the table. One of those amendments is that for proximate land use consultation. Could the member across speak to why that would have been taken off the table when it was shown that municipalities want a way to communicate with railway companies to arrive at the best land use decisions? And does the federal government have a role to play in that?

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, this government has many priorities. The number one priority, of course, is jobs and economic growth. However, we are passing this piece of legislation swiftly and with the support of all parties.

Now the opposition claims to support this bill, yet its members rise in this House and claim that it has certain deficiencies. Throughout committee they supported it, and all key stakeholders have supported it.

This bill protects the safety of Canadians and Canadian communities. This bill is the right piece of legislation at the right time and it deserves swift passage by all members of this House.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments by the member, but I want to pick up on a point or two.

First, no one would question the importance of railway safety. We need to do what we can. This particular bill would have a positive impact. To that degree, I think people would be very pleased to see there is all-party support to get this measure put into place thereby making railway safety better in this country.

I also want to pick up on a point that was raised earlier by one of the member's colleagues. Today, more than ever before, we have these large rail yards in Winnipeg, the Symington Yard, the CN yard, or in Winnipeg north, the CP tracks, which have suburban areas building around them. There is always the need for us to review and look at ways in which we can do an even better job in providing comfort for those who live in this environment of large yards to make sure that all safety measures are taken.

We should also take a moment to applaud those who are the stakeholders and the employees, who do and have done a wonderful job of ensuring the track record we have had over the last number of years in providing good quality railway service.

The member might want to provide comment on that.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would add that many of these rail yards that are now within residential neighbourhoods are a result of urban growth. The rail yards were built far before any of the urban sprawl occurred.

Having said that, I would add that we should be proud of our rail industry and those who oversee its safety, including the rail workers. They have taken great care in ensuring that these rail yards are good neighbours to the communities in which they find themselves at the current time and that all safety precautions are taken to ensure safety is paramount for our families and within our communities.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, this bill has been exhaustively analyzed, consulted on and debated for several years. Not only has it been exhaustively analyzed, but it has also received widespread support from this House, the upper House, industry stakeholders, unions, shippers, suppliers and other interested parties.

Does my hon. colleague agree that after five years of consultation and support, it is now time to produce results for Canadians and strengthen the safety of our railways?

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member raises a good point. This bill has been debated ad nauseam. It is now time to act. This government has put the legislation forward, and I would expect every member of this House who has the safety of Canadians at heart as a major concern to make sure this bill passes swiftly.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary in answering questions earlier ducked the question about whether or not the upcoming budget would contain cuts to the staff responsible for enforcing the legislation. Over the course of a number of speeches there has been an indication from the government side of the House that industry self-regulating is really where it wants to go with this.

I would remind the member opposite, since we were talking about land use, that his riding contains the Sunrise Propane station that blew up. It was the second largest explosion in the Toronto area after the Mississauga train derailment. There are several homes that are still unusable as a result of that explosion.

A number of comments have been made about the fact that the explosion was caused by industry self-regulation. The TSSA was given the responsibility by the government to regulate itself when it came to the handling of propane, and a number of clear deficiencies came to light, but only after the explosion. There was no oversight on the part of the government on how that regulation would take place.

I wonder if the member opposite would like to comment on whether the upcoming cuts to the budget would have an impact on the ability of rail agencies to be safe.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, none of us in the House is privy to what is in the budget other than the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance, and none of us quite frankly should be. It would be presumptuous of anybody here to assume what is in the budget, what cuts are planned in the budget and what is not planned in the budget. The member has really raised a red herring.

With respect to the Superior Propane explosion a number of years ago, the member knows quite well that propane is under provincial jurisdiction and provincial regulation. Given the situation of a minority Parliament in the Ontario legislature, I would suggest that the member ask his NDP friends in Ontario to help push for better provincial regulation over propane installations.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think all of us are very pleased to see Bill S-4 reflecting the spirit of co-operation of all parties who are concerned with rail safety in this country.

I would also like to ask whether we can see the kind of commitment that would extend rail safety by providing the additional kind of equipment, the automated brakes on speed and so on, that could avoid accidents. The member has spoken to this point, but I would really like to see the kind of solid commitment that goes along with this excellent legislation.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, as the member knows, regulation and legislation are living, evolving creatures and are subject to debate and exchange within parliaments and committees.

We have here a great piece of legislation that really deserves the support of every member in the House so it passes swiftly and expeditiously. The safety of Canadians is at stake right now, and we have put forward a bill that would address all the safety concerns and would put the safety of Canadians first. I would urge all members in the House, rather than nitpick, to pass the bill expeditiously and swiftly.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau NDP Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague from York Centre on his excellent speech. Indeed, it is time to take action and pass this bill.

The new budget will be introduced soon. Will it include investment to modernize our rail transportation system? If the government wants to ensure rail safety, it will have to invest significant amounts of money in modernizing the system.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, we cannot comment on what is in the budget. The member asked what investments are planned. I suggest he be here on March 29, the day the Minister of Finance will unveil the budget. He will find out at that time.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I stand in support of the legislation, but as will become clear in my presentation to this House, I have some reservations on the commitment of the government to actually deliver on the legislation.

As the parliamentary secretary said in his comments on Bill S-4, the government should do what only governments can do and he noted that one of those things was to ensure public safety. However, he then added that it was important to move toward greater privatization and less government control, including over the rail industry.

I would suggest these are rather contradictory statements. It is that very contradictory approach to governance, frankly, by the current government that has caused increasing risks to public health and safety.

Nonetheless, the government can be commended for including many of the recommendations made over the many years of review of the legislation to improve it, including the introduction of administrative penalties and the stricter or higher penalties for serious infractions.

The introduction of administrative penalties is long overdue. I in fact participated in an initiative by Treasury Board and the Department of Justice in 1989. I was then chief of enforcement for Environment Canada and one of the few officials in the government who was actually supportive of this measure. We had a very productive measure. We travelled in the United States and examined some European jurisdictions for more innovative approaches to ensuring compliance with federal statutes. One of those measures was administrative penalties, which have only recently been put into environmental laws. It is encouraging to see them put into this law.

However, what causes me great concern is another comment by the parliamentary secretary. He may have misspoken. He may not understand fully what is included in enforcement of compliance policy and the criteria that are normally put in place in determining what kind of penalty should be exercised.The parliamentary secretary suggested that the value of administrative penalties was in a case of persistent non-compliance. I would like to assure the House that certainly in the case of environmental statutes, a case of persistent non-compliance is generally a trigger for a serious investigation and, in all likelihood, a prosecution.

The very purpose of legislation and the very purpose of an enforcement compliance system is to show to the regulated industry that there is a threat of detection and, in turn, enforcement.

As an aside, Mr. Speaker, I did not realize that I was splitting my time with the member for Drummond. If you could let me know when my time is up so I do not speak over it, I would appreciate that.

It is very important when tabling an important piece of legislation like this to make it clear within the agency that is going to be responsible for ensuring compliance that a very clear and consistent enforcement and compliance strategy has been put forward.

I would like to bring to the attention of the House, including to the government of the day, the fact that a predecessors of theirs, a former environment minister, Tom McMillan, of the Progressive Conservative government of Prime Minister Mulroney, actually took that measure and had a very commendable approach to regulating at the federal level. On the day he tabled his bill, the now Canadian Environmental Protection Act, he simultaneously tabled an enforcement and compliance policy. Why did he do that? He said that a law without effective enforcement was a hollow measure.

I think that would make sense to everyone in this House. In other words, we can have the strictest penalties in the world, we can showcase the law and say that it is the best one in the western world, as we often say about our Canadian environmental statutes, but it is of little value if there is not equal commitment to effectively enforce that law and to ensure compliance.

Hearing the responses today from the government members to questions asked in this area, I am not reassured. I look forward in the future, perhaps in further discussions of the bill, for that matter to be clarified.

Why am I raising this? One of the most serious problems with rail safety in this country, in some cases, has been the failure to regulate and the failure of successive governments actually to enact the necessary regulations to give credibility to the Railway Safety Act. We have had review after review, including by the rail safety board, identifying regulatory gaps. However, the most significant problem with rail safety that has been identified by independent review bodies has been the failure of the government to effectively enforce that legislation.

I will refer to a report by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development tabled in the House in December 2011, very recently. What did the commissioner find? He and his review found:

Transport Canada lacks a consistent approach to planning and implementing compliance activities [in transportation]. As a consequence, it cannot ensure that sites are inspected according to the highest risk.

He further stated:

Transport Canada has not ensured that corrective action has been taken on instances of non-compliance.

In addition, he stated:

Transport Canada has given only temporary, interim approval for nearly half of the emergency response assistance plans put in place by regulated organizations. As a consequence, many of the most dangerous products regulated under the Act have been shipped for years without the Department having completed a detailed verification of plans for an immediate emergency response.

I have personal knowledge of these deficiencies. I happen to own property on Lake Wabumun, where in 2005 there was largest freshwater spill in the history of North America. Three-quarters of the spilled bunker C oil still lies at the bottom of Lake Wabumun. There was somewhat of an attempt to clean it up. I have to say that the Government of Canada, regrettably, did not appear on the scene until a week after the spill. Why is that critical? It is because there is a first nation located on that lake, which was monumentally impacted by that spill. The end result of the spill was a special commission by the Government of Alberta to ensure there would better emergency response measures in the future. I am sad to say there was no parallel review conducted by the Government of Canada.

It is not only the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development who has identified problems with the regulations under the statute. By the way, the new statute does provide for additional regulations, but, regrettably, the government has not simultaneously tabled the listing of regulations and the timetable wherein these regulations will be put in place. The statute is fine insofar as it is an enabling legislative measure, but the substance of this act comes with the regulations. We do not have any knowledge of when the government plans to come forward with these regulations, what the timetable and consultation program will be. I would encourage the government to bring these forward because it would give a lot of assurance to the people in the communities who live and work along the rail lines.

I would also encourage the government to table an enforcement and compliance strategy. Why is that critical? It is because it has been determined in review after review by the rail safety board that the system that the present government and the government before it have put into place is simply to abandon enforcement. It has been turned over to a self-inspection and self-enforcement system by the rail lines. That would be fine if we were not dealing with an industry that is increasingly carrying heavier loads and more dangerous cargo.

By the way, this cargo runs along most of the waterways of this country. The rail lines were originally built along the waterways to cool the trains' coal-fired engines. A good deal of the Canadian environment is potentially at risk, hence, the reason for the amendments to ensure greater rail safety in Canada. However, that is all the more reason it is incumbent upon the government to ensure those provisions are actually effectively inspected and enforced.

I would bring to the attention of the House a report by Transport Canada following the Wabumun and Cheakamus spills. It stated:

The Railway Track Safety Rules do not provide any guidance on fatigue life, nor are there common industry standards for rail life based on accumulated tonnage and the properties of the steel.

...Neither the quality of steel nor the accumulated tonnage is factored into this decision.

It further stated:

Recognizing the limitations of existing inspection tools, there is a requirement for additional strategies to ensure that maintenance rails are not installed where they are likely to have a shorter fatigue life than the parent rail.

It made a number of recommendations on putting more specific binding criteria in place for the maintenance of rails. Again, as I mentioned at the outset, that is very critical because many Canadians live and work along these lines and we need to ensure the public safety of Canadians.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, much has been said about the monetary penalties attached to this bill, but I wonder if monetary penalties mean anything if there is no enforcement. If people are not caught then there is not going to be any monetary penalty.

Second, the amounts are touted as being very high, yet I note that a million dollars is really only a couple days' bonus for the CEO of Air Canada, for example. How can we then suggest that these are actual deterrents to bad behaviour on the part of the railroads?

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his very astute question. In fact, it is now the case that with most of these kinds of offences where there may be harm to public safety or to the environment, most statutes, including federal and environmental statutes, now provide a lot of innovative order powers for the courts. As we have seen in the courts, the latter actually give preference to those alternative remedies. Those would include, in addition to any monetary penalty, that the convicted party would have to invest many more millions of dollars in improving their rail safety, training, and in providing cleanup equipment along the rail line, and so forth. Therefore, it does not matter what the monetary penalty is, unless of course the rail lines are inspected and they are in force. In fact a million dollars seems pretty small in the case of a major incident.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my hon. friend from the riding of Edmonton—Strathcona to reflect more on the lessons learned from that really devastating toxic spill that occurred in Alberta near her home. If I recall, the hon. member had a cottage on that lake and experienced first hand some of the reasons for the derailment.

This legislation, while sound, in my mind will not sufficiently deal with systemic problems from the cutbacks to rail staff and cutbacks to safety regulations. I would like to ask my hon. friend if she would agree.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for her cogent question. I know she is a great defender of the environment as well.

Absolutely, I have witnessed first hand the devastation that can occur when we do not properly regulate, inspect, and enforce our rail laws. This is harm that should not happen to the environment. It is preventable. This is the disgrace of it. It is absolutely incumbent on the government to reverse its policy of turning over more and more of the responsibilities for inspection and the monitoring of critical laws like rail safety. I am looking forward to the government stepping up to the plate and saying that it realizes this law is important and showing good faith and actually bringing forward some cases, putting more inspectors out there and making sure that these lines are inspected more sufficiently, and also putting in place the proper technology so that it can actually detect the rail line errors.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I always enjoy listening to the member for Edmonton—Strathcona when she talks about environmental safety issues. When I came in I missed the beginning of a section of a report that she was reading. My apologies to her if it was from the environment commissioner's report, but it sounded a lot like the 2011 report by the environment commissioner.

One of his recommendations dealt with the fact that Transport Canada does not conduct an adequate timely review when approving emergency response assistance plans, particularly when transporting dangerous goods. He talked about these plans. There can be an interim plan, and all that is required for the interim plan is a working telephone number. That is it, and some of these interim plans have been in place for a decade. Therefore, I would like to hear from the member what she thinks about this kind of emergency response.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member for Halifax is a hundred per cent right. I did quote from the 2011 report by the environment commissioner. He did note that the Transport Safety Board had identified deficiencies in all of the emergency procedures manuals that it had reviewed. There was no identification of hazards, no assessment of the risks posed by the hazards, no list of residents in the potential area, no map of nearby residences or evacuation routes, and no description or location of emergency response equipment. These are very significant problems.

Therefore, the government, in spite of bringing forward good legislation, has a big task ahead of it. We look forward to a substantive response on the proper investments to make sure that the public is kept safe.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to Bill S-4, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to the Canada Transportation Act.

I would like to begin by saying that we have been looking forward to this bill for years. We have been waiting for a rail safety overhaul for a long time, and this bill is a major step forward. We have all been looking forward to this measure, and we are happy to support this bill.

I would like to mention that the railway system is very important in my riding of Drummond. This is not something that should be neglected; rather, it should be protected. VIA Rail passenger trains pass directly through Drummondville and stop to pick up and drop off many passengers who are happy to have this service. We would like VIA Rail to provide our city with even more services and we would like the government to invest even more in this magnificent mode of transportation. Freight trains also pass through our city. Residents are greatly appreciative of this fact because rail transport is one of the most environmentally friendly modes of transportation. However, it is important that investments be made in infrastructure. The hon. member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges spoke about this earlier. In Drummondville, for example, when a train passes through, three downtown streets are blocked for 5, 10, 15 or sometimes even 20 minutes, which means that people are stuck in traffic.

This bill to improve rail safety is very important because it will enhance safety, not only for train crews and passengers, but also for the people near the trains, such as drivers and pedestrians. As I mentioned, trains pass right through the middle of downtown Drummondville. Thus, it is very important to us that rail safety be improved.

I would like to add that not only does the NDP support Bill S-4 but it has also proposed some amendments. I will list a few of them. I see that I do not have much time left. For example, we know that the Conservative government has ignored repeated calls—

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I must interrupt the hon. member as it is now time for statements by members.

The hon. member will have seven minutes to finish his speech after question period.

Madeleine ParentStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Bloc

Louis Plamondon Bloc Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with much emotion that I rise today in the House to pay a final tribute to an exceptional woman who just passed away.

Since the 1940s, Madeleine Parent has been a prominent figure in Quebec. She was a true pioneer in the union movement and in the fight against all forms of injustice.

She was also a great Quebec feminist who helped advance the fundamental rights of women, rights that the current generation unfortunately might take for granted.

Workers, especially women, are grieving the loss of a tireless woman who, with authenticity and courage, waged a battle despite the adversity she faced and the fierce opposition of certain governments.

Today, with this regressive Conservative government in power, I take up her 2006 call to unite sovereignist forces and make Quebec a more just society for all.

CurlingStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, this past week my beautiful city of Saskatoon hosted the 2012 Tim Hortons Brier. I want to thank the organizers, the volunteers, the sponsors, the teams and most importantly of all, the fans for once again bringing the excitement of curling to the province of Saskatchewan.

I would like to congratulate all the teams across Canada who competed and especially Ontario's Team Howard on winning an exciting final.

I am sure all my colleagues will join me in wishing Glenn Howard, Wayne Middaugh, Brent Laing and Craig Savill all the best as they represent Canada at the men's world curling championship in Switzerland later this month.

Zaphod BeeblebroxStatements By Members

2 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, 20 years ago this month, live music venue Zaphod Beeblebrox first opened its doors on York Street here in Ottawa. Today, I would like to honour this extraordinary achievement and that of the club's iconic proprietor, Eugene Haslam.

I performed in this long, narrow landmark many times over the years. Some nights we played to an empty house, some nights it was packed. But what never changed was the fair and respectful way we were treated as artists at Zaphod's. In other words, Eugene Haslam, like so many cultural pioneers in this country, has done this for the love of it, the love of music and the love of community. To run a small business for 20 years and have it survive is tough enough, but to run a live music club in Ottawa, now that is a mission of mercy.

On behalf of all music lovers, geeks and punters, wannabes and has-beens, DJs, punk rockers and even legislators, thanks to Eugene Haslam and all the great staff at Zaphod's for giving this city and this country 20 years of heart, soul, and rock and roll.

Provincial Basketball ChampionshipStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to congratulate three high school basketball teams in my riding for capturing the NSSAF Provincial Basketball Championship last month.

The Amherst Vikettes, the Oxford Golden Bears girls team and the Pugwash Panthers boys team all were successful and were the best in the province.

Congratulations to coaches Gillian Ellis, Peter and Tracy Swan and Vincent Pye on this tremendous achievement for them and their players.

I hope that all the players have taken this opportunity to thank their coaches for all the time, effort and volunteer hours they have put in to make this such a valuable, one-time experience in their lives. All coaches across the country should be congratulated for the time and effort they put in.

Agricultural Safety WeekStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I stand today to recognize Agricultural Safety Week. As a farmer, I understand very well the risk and the danger to operators and employees of many of the farm jobs we do. I am sure every farmer in the House would have a story to tell on the close calls or worse that have happened on their farms.

This year, Agricultural Safety Week is focusing on the assessment, improvement and further development of safety systems. The Canadian Agricultural Safety Association, in order to help farmers build a written farm safety plan, has developed a new tool called the Canada Farm Safe Plan.

It says that “This resource is flexible enough to be used by any sector in any province and can easily be customized to each producer's specific operation”. I encourage producers to use it.

In conclusion, I thank all farmers for the hard work they do all year round to ensure Canadians and people around the world have access to food of the utmost quality. I wish them good health as they accept the risks of life on the farm.

Toronto Fire ServicesStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in the House to honour the men and women of Toronto Fire Services, in particular the brave firefighters who risk their lives every day to protect and save the lives of others.

In my constituency of Scarborough Centre, we are fortunate to have two fire halls within our boundaries, Station 245 on Birchmount Road and Station 232 at 1550 Midland Road, which is just steps from my constituency office at the corner of Midland and Lawrence Avenues. I should also note that the fire prevention division is also located in the heart of my riding of Scarborough Centre.

I am very proud of all of our City of Toronto firefighters. I have to admit there is one I am particularly fond of, my husband, Robert, who is acting captain of Station 141. He is here in Ottawa today, along with our two children.

Today I would like to thank all Toronto Fire Services personnel, especially our firefighters. I am in awe of their bravery and their dedication to the safety of the citizens of my great city.

Madeleine ParentStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

NDP

Djaouida Sellah NDP Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, Quebec lost a great woman yesterday. Madeleine Parent, a leading advocate for workers' and women's rights, died at the age of 93.

Ms. Parent campaigned for women's right to vote, fought to unionize textile workers, and helped liberate Canadian unions. She worked tirelessly to build bridges among Quebec society, aboriginals and immigrants.

Ms. Parent's legacy is great and precious. We must continue her work to create a more egalitarian society.

Thank you for everything, Ms. Parent.

Nick ZoricicStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise in great sadness today to recognize and pay tribute to a great Canadian skiing athlete we lost over the weekend, Nick Zoricic.

Nick trained at the Craigleith Ski Club in my riding of Simcoe—Grey. He was a beloved athlete and local hero in our community. He was a mentor to many young skiers. He truly set the bar high for himself and for all those who looked up to him.

Nick made his mark on the international skiing stage by competing hard, but also by demonstrating, as his colleagues have mentioned, his gentle and unassuming personality. He represented the very best in Canadian athleticism. While he was international skiing star around the world, he will always be remembered as a homegrown talent who got his start on the hills in the Blue Mountains.

My thoughts and prayers are with the Zoricic family in this difficult time. I would ask all the members of this House to join me in recognizing and paying tribute to this fantastic Canadian athlete.

Brand India ExpoStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, the 2012 Brand India Expo is taking place today and tomorrow at the Ottawa Convention Centre. I welcome the Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh Nabam Tuki for leading the high-level delegation and other participants.

I just returned from the grand opening. Our hard-working Minister of International Trade spoke about the tremendous economic opportunity Canada has in India. We all know that one in five Canadian jobs are trade-related, and that Canada's economy depends on our success as a trading nation.

India is one of the largest and fastest growing emerging economies in the world. I encourage all my colleagues on both sides of the House to visit the Brand India Expo. As we move forward towards our ambitious trade agreement with India, the ties between our countries, both economically and culturally, are becoming even stronger. This can only benefit Canadian jobs and economic growth.

Eddy ProulxStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Saint-Jean-Valleyfield branch of the Fédération de l'UPA has lost one of its great trade unionists, Eddy Proulx, an agricultural producer in the municipality of Cèdres.

Mr. Proulx was active in the UPA for some 40 years. Fair weather or foul, he attended all of the regional federation's union meetings. He never hesitated to stand up for the interests of agricultural producers in every possible forum. Everyone knows that the UPA was very dear to his heart.

Co-founder of the Table agroalimentaire de la CRÉ de la Vallée-du-Haut-Saint-Laurent and the Réseau Agriconseils Montérégie-Ouest, he earned recognition outside our region too. He spoke at a conference in Benin, Africa, on behalf of the international development arm of the UPA.

Despite illness, Mr. Proulx was involved in the UPA until his death. Agricultural producers will not soon forget him.

2012 Arctic Winter GamesStatements By Members

2:10 p.m.

Conservative

Ryan Leef Conservative Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Minister of State for Sport, the minister responsible for CanNor and myself, I am pleased to rise in the House to congratulate and thank Yukon athletes, dedicated organizers, the league of volunteers and sponsors of this year's 2012 Arctic Winter Games.

These games welcomed Arctic communities from across Canada and four other nations. The games are an international celebration of northern sport, culture and friendship.

The game's organizers achieved their mission to stage an exceptional Arctic Winter Games that focused on athletic experience, community involvement and highlighted the uniqueness of the north. They should be proud of their contributions to young participants and to the people of the north.

I would like to congratulate Team Nunavut for winning the Hodgson Sportsmanship Trophy for its demonstration of respect for the rules, officials and opponents.

I invite all members of the House to join me in congratulating everyone involved in the 2012 Arctic Winter Games. A commitment to sport is a commitment to our country and these games exemplified that over the past few weeks.

Aboriginal PeopleStatements By Members

2:10 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, in 2006, the Algonquin community of Barriere Lake, located in the northern part of the Pontiac riding, was put under third party management by the Conservative government, and since then the community's funds have been being managed by two administrators instead of just one, which makes consultation with the community even more difficult.

Unfortunately, this third party management has not improved the living conditions of the residents. On the contrary, the conditions continue to get worse. Children and seniors are the primary victims of this situation that fails to meet their basic needs, such as access to healthy housing and high-quality health care services.

As a Canadian and a member of Parliament, I am ashamed of this government's inaction on the Barriere Lake situation. Our fellow citizens are living in third world conditions. The Algonquin of Barriere Lake are demanding real solutions to the problems of unsanitary housing, the distribution of electricity to infrastructure, health care, the restructuring of educational services, the building of new schools, and the territorial delineation of the reserve.

How much longer should the Barriere Lake community have to wait before—

Aboriginal PeopleStatements By Members

2:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe.

JusticeStatements By Members

2:10 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Goguen Conservative Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, yesterday evening was an historic evening for Canadians. The Safe Streets and Communities Bill passed in this House and will soon receive royal assent.

Victims, police officers and honest citizens have long been asking for criminals to receive sentences that fit the severity of their crimes.

For too long, under the revolving door justice system we inherited from the previous Liberal government, victims would be shocked when those who were victimized were given house arrest. We promised that we would fix such injustices, and we have delivered.

A major component of the safe streets and communities act targets criminals who sexually exploit children. Because of this government, every such offender is guaranteed to serve time in jail. Our children deserve no less. In addition, the safe streets and communities act ended house arrest for serious crimes like sexual assault, kidnapping and human trafficking.

Canadians deserve to feel safe in their homes and communities and that means keeping dangerous criminals off our streets. We will continue to fight crime and protect Canadians so their communities will be safe places to live, raise their families and do business.

Official LanguagesStatements By Members

2:10 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, at a time when we are celebrating la Francophonie, we are also face to face with the bilingualism controversy in the community hospital in Cornwall.

A slogan like “One country, one flag, one language” is a denial of Canada. Hearing such things in 2012 is unthinkable. That is not my Canada, it is not your Canada, and it is certainly not the Canada of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Next week, we are going to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the great day when 10,000 proud Canadians stood in opposition to the closing of the Montfort Hospital.

On the front benches of the government are three ministers who were in the Harris government at the time. I hope they have learned and that they will stand up for the francophones of Cornwall.

The anglophone community must be well informed so that it is able to avoid similar situations. Those same ministers, and the hon. member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry must do their duty as members of the Parliament of Canada and do what is necessary to convince their fellow citizens of the validity of linguistic duality all across Canada, and certainly in Cornwall, during Francophonie Week.

41st General ElectionStatements By Members

2:10 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, mere days before election day last year, the Liberal Party national campaign held secret training, teaching Liberal volunteers how to make robocalls through their Liberalist database. Just hours later, Guelph phones were ringing off their hooks because of this Liberal dirty trick.

Under the assumed name Laurie MacDonald, the Liberal campaign was anonymously and misleadingly calling residents with a message. These were Liberal calls from a fake phone number, from a Liberal volunteer using a fake name.

Now the member for Guelph has admitted that he and his campaign paid for these illegal and unethical phone calls to fight off an NDP surge. If these calls were just an oversight, as the member claims, why did he wait until he was almost caught to come forward?

Something smells rotten. Millions of dollars were spent by the Liberals on hundreds of thousands of phone calls. Where else did the Liberals target Canadian households with this illegal campaign?

New Democratic PartyStatements By Members

2:15 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, last May, millions of Quebeckers and Canadians were fed up with the old ways of doing politics. That is why they voted for the NDP—so that we would clean up Ottawa. Unlike the Liberals and the Conservatives, the NDP works relentlessly to get results that address Canadians' concerns.

To this end, over the past few weeks, the NDP has won passage of several motions in the House of Commons: one on employment, one on first nations education, and one that was passed unanimously yesterday in order to give Elections Canada more power to investigate election fraud. Tomorrow, we are going to propose a new motion that seeks to resolve the drug shortage crisis in Quebec and in Canada.

We are not going to let the Conservatives stand in the way of Canadians' priorities. The NDP is not only an opposition party, but also a party that makes proposals. Quebeckers and Canadians can count on us to take action.

41st General ElectionStatements By Members

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal interim leader denied having centralized calling capabilities. Let us look at the facts.

The Liberals purchased their Liberalist software from the U.S. for that exact purpose. They used it last election. They spent millions of dollars on hundreds of thousands of phone calls during the last election. Now we have that heard voters in Guelph were targeted by robocalls from the member for Guelph's Liberal campaign. That robocall training was provided by the national Liberal Party to campaign workers hours before the illegal anonymous messages were sent by the Liberal campaign to voters using a fake phone number by a Liberal volunteer using a fake name.

Why is the Liberal interim leader trying to cover up the existence of Liberalist? The Liberals need to tell us what kind of dirty tricks they are teaching their Liberal volunteer campaign workers.

41st General ElectionOral Questions

2:15 p.m.

Hull—Aylmer Québec

NDP

Nycole Turmel NDPLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, in 2005, the Prime Minister said that anyone in the position that he currently holds has the moral responsibility to respect the will of the House. Yesterday evening, the House adopted the NDP motion to get at the truth about the fraudulent activities of the last election. We voted in favour of accountability.

Will this government respect the motion and introduce amendments to the Canada Elections Act within six months?

41st General ElectionOral Questions

2:15 p.m.

Calgary Southwest Alberta

Conservative

Stephen Harper ConservativePrime Minister

Mr. Speaker, we have clearly stated from the beginning that we want Elections Canada to continue its investigation. The reality is that Elections Canada already has evidence of illegal calls made by the opposition in one riding. Obviously, I hope that all the parties will share all their information with Elections Canada.

41st General ElectionOral Questions

2:15 p.m.

Hull—Aylmer Québec

NDP

Nycole Turmel NDPLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, the government must respect last night's vote by taking the necessary action as quickly as possible. Most Canadians want a public inquiry. They want to know the truth. The NDP requested a public inquiry 18 days ago, when this scandal broke. An inquiry must be conducted in order to find out the truth and really clear the air.

Why will the Prime Minister not agree to order a public inquiry?

41st General ElectionOral Questions

2:15 p.m.

Calgary Southwest Alberta

Conservative

Stephen Harper ConservativePrime Minister

Mr. Speaker, Elections Canada is already conducting an investigation. We have been sharing all our information with Elections Canada from the beginning.

In this case, we see from the NDP's documentation that the party has not been fully transparent. It is essential that all parties share their information with Elections Canada.

41st General ElectionOral Questions

2:20 p.m.

Hull—Aylmer Québec

NDP

Nycole Turmel NDPLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, we need a public inquiry to find the truth and clear the air.

The Prime Minister needs to take responsibility here. This is the House of Commons, not a schoolyard. “I know you are, but what am I”, is not leadership.

Someone linked to the Conservatives was questioned by Elections Canada yesterday. Why are they playing games in question period? Why will they not take responsibility for their role?

41st General ElectionOral Questions

2:20 p.m.

Calgary Southwest Alberta

Conservative

Stephen Harper ConservativePrime Minister

Mr. Speaker, in terms of the assertion about what the House of Commons is not, some days I wonder.

The fact is there is an inquiry by Elections Canada, which is the independent agency authorized to do just that. This party has been fully transparent with Elections Canada in assisting in its investigation.

We encourage the opposition, which has already now admitted that it deliberately did misleading calls, to come forward with the information on which it bases its allegations.

41st General ElectionOral Questions

2:20 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are talking about misleading. Only one party is under investigation by Elections Canada.

Yesterday the parliamentary secretary attempted to change the channel by going after the Liberals for breaking the rules. Now the problem was that the parliamentary secretary in Peterborough had his own monkey games on election day with his phones.

He might think that having Liberals and Conservatives rolling around in the mud will divert attention, but we are talking about electoral fraud. Only one party is being investigated for electoral fraud. Only one party's operatives are being brought forward.

Who paid for those scripts and who paid for the calls?

41st General ElectionOral Questions

2:20 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting. Only one party actually tried to defraud Elections Canada by funnelling money into the Broadbent Institute, and that would be the NDP. It had to return that money.

The calls in Peterborough, referred to by the member opposite, used a real name, identified a real campaign office with a real phone number. The hon. member for Guelph has admitted to paying for misleading and in fact illegal calls with a message from a fake person using a fake phone number.

The opposition has now admitted to making illegal calls. We know it paid millions of dollars to make these calls. We want Elections Canada to investigate this and we would like the opposition to assist it.

41st General ElectionOral Questions

2:20 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, this has nothing to do with robocalls and everything to do with robo fraud. This is about the fact that 5,000 votes in 12 key ridings decided the last election.

The issue of voter suppression and interfering with the right of Canadians to vote is serious business. There is only one party, the Conservative Party, that is once again being investigated for electoral fraud. There is only one party that has been convicted of electoral fraud, and that is the Conservative Party.

Why will the Conservatives not come clean to Canadians? When are they going to call a public inquiry so that we can get to the bottom of their interference with Canadians' right to vote?

41st General ElectionOral Questions

2:20 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, this party did no such thing. In fact, we are the only party that has been completely transparent with Elections Canada.

We invite the NDP to provide that same level of transparency to Elections Canada, because what we know is that the opposition has now admitted—in fact, confessed—to making illegal calls when confronted with the evidence. We know that they paid millions of dollars to make these calls to Canadians in the last election.

We are assisting Elections Canada. I have indicated we are providing the transparency they need. We would like the opposition to do the same.

41st General ElectionOral Questions

2:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is a court order to the Conservative Party in Guelph requiring production of documents. That is the court order that is in place. That is why they are co-operating with elections Canada with respect to what took place in Guelph: they have to. They have no choice.

I still did not hear the Prime Minister clearly answer the question that was posed to him. It has to be answered again.

Why is the Prime Minister refusing to set up a royal commission to look at what has happened and to establish new rules and new ways of ensuring a really fair election process in Canada? Why is the Prime Minister refusing to do that?

41st General ElectionOral Questions

2:20 p.m.

Calgary Southwest Alberta

Conservative

Stephen Harper ConservativePrime Minister

Mr. Speaker, of course there is an inquiry under way by Elections Canada, which is charged under the law with this responsibility.

It is interesting, now that we have had weeks of these kinds of allegations, that we now find out that the Liberal Party in Guelph, the winning Liberal candidate, made deliberately misleading calls and in fact authorized such calls, so clearly he knew about them all along.

I guess the reason for all of these allegations has been to cover that very fact. It makes us wonder how many other ridings the Liberal Party did this in.

41st General ElectionOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister can make all the allegations and all the smears that he wants. The point has to be made clearly--

41st General ElectionOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

41st General ElectionOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order. The hon. member for Toronto Centre has the floor.

41st General ElectionOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the point is that if we want to actually get at the truth with respect to what took place in the last election and go beyond just what took place in the last election to give us guidance with respect to what needs to take place in the future, the Prime Minister knows as well as anyone else in this House that it requires a royal commission and that Elections Canada alone cannot do that.

Why is the Prime Minister refusing to call and establish a royal commission? Why will he not do that?

41st General ElectionOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Calgary Southwest Alberta

Conservative

Stephen Harper ConservativePrime Minister

Mr. Speaker, not only is there an inquiry in place, but that inquiry is apparently getting to the bottom of some illegal acts by the Liberal Party, so it is no wonder the Liberal Party suddenly does not like that particular inquiry.

I would encourage the leaders of all parties to fully co-operate with Elections Canada and give all the information that has been requested, as we have done and will continue to do.

41st General ElectionOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, unlike the government, the Conservative Party, today our party revealed all the calls that we made. We told Canadians exactly how the Liberal Party operates. The same cannot be said of the Conservative Party. The Conservative Party did not do the same thing; it did not provide the information in the same manner.

Why is the Conservative government continuing to refuse to establish a royal commission on this issue?

41st General ElectionOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Calgary Southwest Alberta

Conservative

Stephen Harper ConservativePrime Minister

On the contrary, Mr. Speaker, we have been making all our information available to Elections Canada for months now. However, such is not the case with the Liberal Party. Now that the investigation has found that the Liberal Party made illegal automated calls, the party is providing information. I am wondering how many other ridings the Liberal Party did this in. It is finally time for the Liberal Party to provide all its information.

Elections CanadaOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, in 2006, the Conservatives orchestrated an electoral fraud with their in and out scheme. They felt that they were above the law, that the law did not apply to them, but, in the end, they had to plead guilty. Showing no shame, they even rewarded the architects of those base acts by appointing them to the Senate. Then, in 2011, they started again. Tens of thousands of dollars were paid to RMG by campaigns that had no idea what services had been rendered for the money.

Will the Conservatives tell us when the Canada Elections Act will be changed to give Elections Canada all the powers it needs to investigate their scandals?

Elections CanadaOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, it is the NDP that broke the law. It had to admit that after the revelations about the methods of funding the Broadbent Institute. The facts are clear.

Also, according to the CRTC rules, “telecommunications shall begin with a clear message identifying the person on whose behalf the telecommunication is made.”

The Liberal Party broke that rule. We know that now. We know the truth. It is now up to the Liberal Party to explain to Canadians why it broke the law.

Elections CanadaOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, this has been going on for a week now. The NDP asks the Conservatives a question and the Conservatives say that the Liberals are just as crooked as they are. That is true. It is true that the Conservative scandals have replaced the Liberal scandals, but that does not provide people with real answers about what happened.

The Conservatives play tough during the election campaign, but when they are in the House, they hide behind the Prime Minister's skirts, dodging questions.

Is there a single Conservative member who will prove worthy of his or her office and say when the Canada Elections Act will be amended so that we can get to the bottom of the Conservative scandals?

Elections CanadaOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, let us talk about what the Liberal Party did.

First, the hon. member for Guelph broke the law. Then he covered it up for a year. In addition, he rose in the House to launch an unsubstantiated smear campaign against our party. Finally, he admitted that he broke the law, but only after he got caught.

It is up to the Liberal Party now to explain what it did and to co-operate with Elections Canada.

41st General ElectionOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, ducking, weaving, and pointing the finger is not the accountability that Canadians deserve. We are not in a schoolyard. These are serious questions with serious consequences. It is election fraud.

A Conservative campaign operative was reportedly questioned by Elections Canada. Why does the government not just come clean by telling the House which Conservatives paid for these calls and where the phone scripts came from? The best they can muster is to say the Liberals did it too. Seriously?

Where is the accountability? Where are the answers?

41st General ElectionOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, it is very interesting. We know the NDP is being investigated for its 2009 convention where it may have accepted some illegal union donations. Recently, last spring, it accepted tens of thousands of illegal donations from unions, of course contravening the Elections Act.

We also now know that the member for Winnipeg Centre has just had to issue his second apology for making claims that were not factual, not truthful. They were slanderous claims against companies in this country. Perhaps he would like to rise in the House and apologize as well.

41st General ElectionOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, last night the House unanimously passed an NDP motion calling for the Chief Electoral Officer to be given more investigative powers. The easy part was the motion; the hard part now is getting the legislation in the House, because without legislation, every day that goes by is a day the Chief Electoral Officer does not have those powers.

My question is clear: in light of the unanimous decision last night, when will the government honour that vote and bring in the detailed legislation that would give the Chief Electoral Officer the power that this Parliament and Canadians demand?

41st General ElectionOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Edmonton—Sherwood Park Alberta

Conservative

Tim Uppal ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, the government has been clear. We support that motion and we will act on that motion.

We are also confident that Elections Canada will get to the bottom of the allegations in Guelph, including the illegal calls placed by the opposition.

Drug ShortagesOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, last night the House held an emergency debate on the serious question of drug shortages, and today the Minister of Health appeared in front of health committee. The minister is still blaming the Conservatives' lack of action on everybody else.

We have proposed a mandatory reporting process as part of a strategy to anticipate, identify and manage these shortages, but the minister is stuck on a voluntary approach that does not work.

What will it take before the Conservatives act on this serious crisis?

Drug ShortagesOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Nunavut Nunavut

Conservative

Leona Aglukkaq ConservativeMinister of Health and Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency

Mr. Speaker, hopefully the hon. member for Vancouver East will better understand the roles we all play in the drug supply process after last night's debate, my appearance in committee this morning and tomorrow's opposition day.

This is a serious matter, and our government respects the roles that each jurisdiction plays. We are not in the business of stepping into provincial and territorial jurisdictions.

I hope the hon. member will join this important debate and work with us, not against us.

Drug ShortagesOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, this issue is not about jurisdiction; it is about the Conservatives not paying attention and not showing leadership. The fact is that the minister has refused to stand up and show the leadership that is required on this crisis.

The provinces are calling for the minister to act. Patient advocates and health professionals are calling on the minister to act. Will the minister admit that her voluntary plan has failed?

The Conservatives must expedite the Health Canada approval process and also guarantee the safety of Canadians.

When will the Conservatives listen to Canadians, not deny what is going on, and lead the effort to end these shortages?

Drug ShortagesOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Nunavut Nunavut

Conservative

Leona Aglukkaq ConservativeMinister of Health and Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency

Mr. Speaker, we have been working 24/7 to provide the support to the provinces and the territories, as we know how important this is to patients and their families.

I want to be very clear. It is the provinces and the territories that are best placed to determine what drugs are needed in their jurisdictions, and they are the ones that enter into contracts with the suppliers regarding their specific requirements. Our government's role is to assist the provinces and territories by informing them of approved Canadian suppliers for drugs when their current supply has not been met.

At the request of the provinces and the territories, we are fast-tracking approvals for international products without compromising our high standards.

Drug ShortagesOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Canadian Cancer Society has urged Ottawa to take its role seriously. The Minister of Health and her parliamentary secretary are completely ignoring our questions and are shrugging off their responsibilities. Health Canada has not been able to regulate the drug industry effectively. Yet that area falls under federal jurisdiction.

The outcome is that the lives of thousands of Canadians are at stake. Health experts and the provinces are asking the federal government to set up a system requiring the industry to disclose the drugs that might run out. That is straightforward.

Is the minister going to tighten up the regulations to avoid other shortages? Yes or no?

Drug ShortagesOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Nunavut Nunavut

Conservative

Leona Aglukkaq ConservativeMinister of Health and Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency

Mr. Speaker, as I stated earlier, our government's role is to assist the provinces and the territories by informing them of approved Canadian suppliers for drugs when their current supply has not been met.

At the request of the provinces and the territories, we are fast-tracking approvals for international products, again without compromising our high standards.

We are making sure that all of the important players are in contact with one another and that all have the latest information about potential or current shortages.

Air CanadaOral Questions

March 13th, 2012 / 2:35 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, they refuse to do anything about the drug shortage, but when no intervention is needed, the Conservatives are right there.

Yesterday, the Conservatives tabled a special law to force Air Canada workers back to work in case of a strike or a lockout.

This is the third time in nine months that the Conservatives have bullied the workers out of their right to collective bargaining.

The government must encourage the two parties to negotiate. Will the Conservatives promise to stay out of the conflict and respect the fundamental rights of Canadians, yes or no?

Air CanadaOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Halton Ontario

Conservative

Lisa Raitt ConservativeMinister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, as we indicated in the past, we are acting on behalf of the Canadian public interest, both in terms of the economy and in terms of the Canadian flying public.

To answer the question the member opposite put, I would, in return, ask him a question: will he support us to pass this legislation quickly through the House this evening so that Canadians can have certainty as to what is going on with air services?

Air CanadaOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, to bully the workers? The answer is no.

By taking this action, the Conservatives are sending a clear message to Canadians: the Conservatives are taking the employer's side, and to heck with workers' rights. The Conservatives must help both sides reach an agreement.

Can the Conservatives promise that they will not intervene in this dispute and that they will respect the fundamental rights of all workers, yes or no?

Air CanadaOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Halton Ontario

Conservative

Lisa Raitt ConservativeMinister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, ours is actually the only party here that is not picking a side. It is clear that the members opposite are choosing to support their big union bosses. That is why they are standing in the House.

It is quite clear, quite frankly, that the opposition will use delay tactics in order to make sure that hard-working Canadians, the Canadian public interest and this great economy will be derailed because of their connection with their union bosses.

41st General ElectionOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, the government claims to care about political financing, pointing to Bill C-21, but its interest seems to stop when it comes to the riding of Vaughan. Three former members of the Conservative association there have each sworn an affidavit alleging that the Associate Minister of National Defence as a Conservative candidate kept two sets of books: an official one and a secret one that was used to bankroll nine other Conservative riding campaigns.

The government denies everything. Is it in fact accusing three Conservative supporters of perjury?

41st General ElectionOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I will say that the hon. member goes to great lengths to try and make this question fall within the House rules of trenching on government business. I guess her implication is that Elections Canada somehow is not doing its job.

We actually believe that Elections Canada does its job. In this particular case, the comportment of the riding association and that of the candidate, the member for Vaughan, have been exemplary in following all the rules and requirements of Elections Canada.

HealthOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, last night the government admitted that it knew about drug shortages six years ago. It also admitted that Health Canada had a similar mandate as the U.S. FDA to ensure access to a safe supply of necessary drugs. Yet in 2006, the FDA began a proactive drug shortages program with industry to anticipate, identify and manage shortages with mandatory reporting of sole-source producers.

Why did the minister wait so long to adopt the U.S. program, putting Canadians at risk with her wait and see approach?

HealthOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

Nunavut Nunavut

Conservative

Leona Aglukkaq ConservativeMinister of Health and Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency

Mr. Speaker, during last night's very important debate, the hon. member for Vancouver Centre seemed confused about what roles the federal government, the provinces, territories and industry play in this matter. I hope she is better informed now and will be able to truly work with us, as we have indicated that this is an issue on which we all need to work together.

HealthOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, one day the Minister of Health said that having drug companies volunteer information about drug shortages has been effective, and then yesterday she told the House that the system failed to alert anyone of the forthcoming shortages at Sandoz until Health Canada officials stepped in. Which is it? Let us have some clarity. After all, the government's voluntary reporting system has failed and it is threatening the lives of thousands of Canadians across the country.

Instead of abdicating responsibility, will the minister implement a mandatory reporting system immediately?

HealthOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

Nunavut Nunavut

Conservative

Leona Aglukkaq ConservativeMinister of Health and Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency

Mr. Speaker, we are working with the industry and health stakeholders to ensure that Canadians are informed on potential and actual shortages, which I initiated last year.

Sandoz has the responsibility to ensure that its customers are informed of anticipated shortages as soon as it becomes aware of a potential problem. Yesterday, I received a letter from the company saying that it will meet my demands for more accountability and post information about drug shortages online. It said that it would give 90 days' notice of any other drug shortages that arise in the future.This is encouraging. I hope that Sandoz will live up to its commitment.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is amazing how quickly the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board has attracted foreign multinational agribusinesses. The foreign takeover of Viterra would put 50% of Canadian grain handled under foreign control.

This industry was built by Canadian farmers and it is now threatened by foreign multinational corporations. How is that a net benefit for Canada's farmers? How does this help Canadian communities? Does the minister really think that multinational corporations are better handlers than Canadian grain farmers and handlers?

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz ConservativeMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, the potential takeover of anything is speculation at best at this point.

The only point the member makes that I agree with is that western Canadian farmers are better off. They are now out from under the single desk. They are able to market their own wheat, durum and barley at the time, place and price of their choosing. They look forward to doing that.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

NDP

Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is precisely why we have the Investment Canada Act. According to Greg Pearlman of BMO Capital Markets, Viterra is a very unique asset with lots of elements that are not replicable. I think this is what is commonly known as a strategic asset.

Will the government commit to respecting clear criteria when determining what is a net benefit and what is a strategic asset and to conducting a quantitative analysis based on those criteria?

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz ConservativeMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, as I have said, any discussion at this point is pure speculation. Having said that, the Investment Canada Act is very clear. There is a process that will be followed should anything happen.

The main thing is that western Canadian farmers now finally enjoy the legal right to market their own commodities at the time, place and price of their choosing. They look forward to exercising that right starting August 1, 2012.

Copyright LegislationOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, first, the government is taking artists to the cleaners on the copyright bill. Now the Conservatives want to make average Canadians criminals. With the new copyright legislation, anyone that breaks digital locks for any lawful purpose will be faced with the full force of the law.

We know the Conservatives love building jails and it seems they will have to fill them somehow. Is that why they are using the copyright bill to make everyday Canadian consumers criminals?

Copyright LegislationOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam B.C.

Conservative

James Moore ConservativeMinister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, that is quite ridiculous. Our copyright legislation, Bill C-11, was adopted by this Parliament at the committee stage today, which I am very pleased about. It will put this country where it should be, which is at the leading edge of intellectual property law around the world. Our legislation has been supported by groups, individual citizens, consumer organizations, and creators across the country.

In fact, the Canadian Recording Industry Association backs our bill. The Canadian Anti-Counterfeiting Network applauds our bill. The Canadian Film and Television Production Association said that it applauds this government's copyright reform as it goes in exactly the right direction.

Copyright LegislationOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Mr. Speaker, being content with large corporations is fine, but we are talking about actors, authors and creators here. With their copyright reform, the Conservatives have demonstrated that they do not care one bit about creators and artists, either in Quebec or elsewhere in Canada. They are going to pass legislation that will deprive creators of $21 million, which is a lot of money.

With Bill C-11, the Conservatives are attacking the livelihood of Canadian creators. This is an attack on our cultural identity and an insult to our artists and the entire cultural industry. The Conservatives seem to believe that Canadian artists are spoiled kids. This contempt for artists—

Copyright LegislationOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order. The hon. Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages.

Copyright LegislationOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam B.C.

Conservative

James Moore ConservativeMinister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, that is completely ridiculous. The Motion Picture Theatre Associations of Canada said that theatre associations applaud the government for its copyright reform, that this bill is of vital interest to theatres and their employees, and that they applaud the government for this initiative.

The NDP is completely against this bill, which proves that our government listens to artists and creators. We introduced a bill that protects their interests.

The NDP is against this bill because the NDP's proposal for an iPod tax has been shot down by the Canadian public and by this government. The NDP wants to raise taxes. We say no. They are mad. We are glad.

SyriaOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, reports indicate that today Syrian forces recaptured the northern town of Idlib from military defectors. Assad's thugs in the meantime are mining border areas, targeting civilians trying to flee the country. Problems in Syria are mounting. Violence is spiralling and the killing continues.

Could the foreign affairs minister give the House an update on this dire situation?

SyriaOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean Ontario

Conservative

John Baird ConservativeMinister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, we remain incredibly troubled by what we see going on in Syria today. I know my hon. colleague shares my concern about the growing humanitarian crisis taking place in Syria and neighbouring states. Refugees are beginning to flood into neighbouring states.

Yesterday I spoke with United Nations Under-Secretary-General Valerie Amos to get briefed on her recent visits. UN observers will be documenting the human rights abuses to hold people accountable for them. We also welcomed today's decision by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to send help into Syria. We have been very clear that Assad must go. Canada is certainly prepared to help address this growing humanitarian crisis.

National DefenceOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, today in committee, we learned that a Department of National Defence team is looking at alternatives to the F-35. The opposition has been asking about the Conservatives' apparent lack of a plan B for months. It seems that the Conservatives' plan for these planes is not going as well as the minister hoped it would.

Why did the government skip the tendering process for the country's largest military purchase ever, and why did it not have a plan B? Is the government just trying to distract the committee, or does it really have a team taking a serious look at alternatives to the F-35 fiasco?

National DefenceOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

Vaughan Ontario

Conservative

Julian Fantino ConservativeAssociate Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, our position has not changed. We remain committed to the joint strike fighter program. A budget has been allocated. A contract has not yet been signed. We will ensure that our air force has the aircraft necessary to do the job we ask it to do.

National DefenceOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway NDP Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, enough; that story has run its course. Today, the associate minister has an opportunity to start again with the truth.

This morning in committee he acknowledged that there is a project planning team looking for alternatives to the F-35. Will the minister come clean with this House today and acknowledge that he is indeed backing out of the F-35 program, or is he stuck with his speaking notes?

National DefenceOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

Vaughan Ontario

Conservative

Julian Fantino ConservativeAssociate Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, we have been clear. When the current aircraft come to the end of their useful life cycle, we will ensure that our men and women in uniform have the best equipment necessary to do the important job we ask of them. However, as I stated, a contract has not been signed for replacement aircraft at this time.

Fisheries and OceansOral Questions

2:50 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, yes he is stuck.

It appears the Conservatives are planning to bury sweeping changes to the Fisheries Act in the upcoming budget. The minister uses the word “modernize” but removing habitat protection from the Fisheries Act would set Canada back decades.

The minister must come clean. Is the minister planning to change section 35 of the Fisheries Act in the next budget? Is the plan to eliminate the protection of fish habitat in Canada and effectively gut the law, yes or no?

Fisheries and OceansOral Questions

2:50 p.m.

Fredericton New Brunswick

Conservative

Keith Ashfield ConservativeMinister of Fisheries and Oceans and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway

Mr. Speaker, there has been no decision made with regard to this issue. I will note that Canada is blessed with an abundant array of natural resources of which we should be proud and which we take seriously and responsibly to conserve and protect.

Fisheries and OceansOral Questions

2:50 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, the lack of consultation is not going unnoticed.

On Friday, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans heard what provincial ministers think about his plan to change the fleet separation policy. It is pretty straightforward. Quebec, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island all oppose the proposed changes. Atlantic fishers and communities also oppose them. The fleet separation policy is essential to the survival of east coast fishers. Will the Conservatives commit to maintaining the fleet separation policy and protecting the coastal fishery?

Fisheries and OceansOral Questions

2:50 p.m.

Fredericton New Brunswick

Conservative

Keith Ashfield ConservativeMinister of Fisheries and Oceans and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway

Mr. Speaker, the assumptions in the question are ridiculous. We are seeking the advice and views of fishermen. That is what we should be doing as a responsible government and it is what I will do as Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. Our government is not advancing any particular position other than to reaffirm our commitment to the economic health of fishermen and our communities.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

2:50 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, last year we warned the government that foreign takeovers in the grain business would inevitably follow the destruction of the Canadian Wheat Board. Exactly that is now happening. Fifteen months after their frantic flip-flop on potash, the Conservatives have still not turned a wheel on their promise to clarify the rules.

How exactly do the Conservatives define net benefit? What constitutes a strategic asset? How will farmers be better off with control vested in Minneapolis, Decatur or Switzerland rather than Regina, Calgary or Winnipeg?

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

2:50 p.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz ConservativeMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, as I have been saying all along, this particular issue is speculation at best. Sadly, the member for Wascana is exhibiting a severe case of premature interjection. I wish that he would keep his powder dry and work with us toward ensuring that farmers enjoy the right to sell their own products out from under the single desk of the Canadian Wheat Board.

National DefenceOral Questions

2:50 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, this morning the Associate Minister of National Defence admitted that he had a road to Damascus experience upon his return from Washington. Apparently, we will no longer be getting 65 F-35s for $75 million each.

Now that plan A has been reduced to “if and when”, will the minister see the light, open the competition and convert to a fair and transparent process?

National DefenceOral Questions

2:50 p.m.

Vaughan Ontario

Conservative

Julian Fantino ConservativeAssociate Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, we remain committed to the joint strike fighter program. A budget has been identified and allocated. We are working the issues through. We will ensure that the men and women in uniform have the best resources available to them to do their jobs.

We will, in essence, make sure that we do what is best for our men and women in uniform as well as Canadian taxpayers.

Written QuestionsOral Questions

2:50 p.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, how far will this government go to undermine our democracy?

On January 30, I submitted a written question to the Minister of Foreign Affairs about the office of religious freedom. I asked specific questions: who participated in the consultations on this subject in October 2011? Who in the department is responsible for this file?

The response I received was worthy of Kafka: nothing but hot air.

What else does the government have to hide?

Written QuestionsOral Questions

2:55 p.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean Ontario

Conservative

John Baird ConservativeMinister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, we have not established the office of religious freedom yet, so it is very difficult to say who is working there.

What we have done is consulted broadly with Canadians from coast to coast to coast, and we have spoken to international religious leaders, defenders of religious liberty around the world, and got their opinion. We hope to come forward with an announcement in short order.

But let me tell members the basic concept. What we want to do is promote religious freedom, something that Canadians enjoy and hold dear, and make that a reality for everyone right around this world.

Written QuestionsOral Questions

2:55 p.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, what I wanted to know was who was consulted.

The minister said that they held consultations. Why can they not provide basic information about those consultations? What are they hiding?

The Auditor General looked into a similar situation in 2004 and found that written questions were a fundamental part of our parliamentary system.

We are facing a similar situation today.

Why do we now have a Conservative minister attacking a fundamental part of our parliamentary system?

Written QuestionsOral Questions

2:55 p.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean Ontario

Conservative

John Baird ConservativeMinister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to inform the member we have consulted Christians, Muslims, Hindus, people of the Jewish faith, Buddhists. We discussed with people around the world to get their counsel and advice, from the Aga Khan to the Vatican. We talked to a good number of Canadians to get their advice and input.

We will hopefully be coming forward in short order with an announcement on this important initiative. We believe, though, religious freedom is something that defines Canadians. It is a value, a right that everyone around the world should share. We look forward to promoting that, to continuing to promote that in the years to come.

SportOral Questions

2:55 p.m.

Conservative

Patrick Brown Conservative Barrie, ON

Mr. Speaker, our government is proud to support Canadian athletes. We have supported the hosting of national and international sporting events, including the Canada Games and the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, and we look forward to hosting the Pan American and Parapan American Games in 2015. Soon our athletes will travel to London to take on the world at the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Can the Minister of State for Sport please tell this House how our government is assisting our athletes as they train for this very prestigious event?

SportOral Questions

2:55 p.m.

Bramalea—Gore—Malton Ontario

Conservative

Bal Gosal ConservativeMinister of State (Sport)

Mr. Speaker, Canada's Olympic and Paralympic athletes are a source of inspiration and great pride.

Since 2006, our government has increased funding to the national sports organizations by 20%. Today I am pleased to announce additional funding to assist athletes in 11 different sports that are identified as having medal potential in the Olympics.

This builds on our government's overall commitment to high performance athletes. Along with all Canadians, I look forward to cheering on our athletes competing in the summer Olympics.

Canadian HeritageOral Questions

2:55 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, sweeping changes have been made at Library and Archives Canada in an effort to make its preservation criteria more rigid.

As we know, its mandate is to facilitate co-operation among the communities involved in the acquisition, preservation and diffusion of knowledge.

In light of the priority given to certain documents lately, can the minister assure us that documents and works that have marked our history will not suffer the same fate as the Alfred Pellan paintings?

Canadian HeritageOral Questions

2:55 p.m.

Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam B.C.

Conservative

James Moore ConservativeMinister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, that is why we made the commitment to this organization to protect our heritage. I know that the opposition has a number of questions on the table. I am pleased that Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Copyright Act has passed, because the Deputy Head and Librarian and Archivist is going to appear before the committee to answer these questions in detail and to underscore the fact that our government has made an unprecedented investment in a new building and programming in order to protect our heritage in the way that my colleague is talking about.

Financial InstitutionsOral Questions

2:55 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault NDP Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, the banking ombudsman offers Canadians fair and independent dispute resolution when they have a complaint against their bank. However, the government's inaction has allowed two of the big banks to walk away from accountability. By allowing the banks to hire their own dispute resolution agency over the banking ombudsman, the government tilts the playing field in favour of the big banks.

How can the Conservative government claim to be on the side of consumers and small businesses when time after time it favours big banks and corporate interests?

Financial InstitutionsOral Questions

3 p.m.

Saint Boniface Manitoba

Conservative

Shelly Glover ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, once again, let me repeat that currently all banks are required to have a consumer complaints procedure in place and have a third-party dispute-handling body. However, there is variation in procedures used. This is a concern to us and consumers.

To better protect consumers, we are forcing banks to belong to government-approved independent third-party bodies, we are establishing uniform regulatory standards for internal complaints procedures and we are giving the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada the authority to monitor and enforce compliance. We have passed legislation for this and are now finalizing regulations.

Unfortunately, the NDP voted against all of that.

Intergovernmental AffairsOral Questions

3 p.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, last night, the Liberals voted against our government's actions to keep our streets and communities safe. In particular, the Newfoundland MPs, once again, turned their backs on the island. When the Liberals from that province vote in this House, they either stand against important beneficial measures or they flip-flop on their commitments to their constituents.

Would the regional minister for Newfoundland and Labrador please tell the House how our government is making sure that we keep delivering results for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians?

Intergovernmental AffairsOral Questions

3 p.m.

Labrador Newfoundland & Labrador

Conservative

Peter Penashue ConservativeMinister of Intergovernmental Affairs and President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada

Mr. Speaker, our government has taken real steps for my home province. We scrapped the wasteful, ineffective long gun registry, we are keeping streets safe, we are providing the historic loan guarantee and we are proceeding to realize the Mealy Mountains national park.

The Liberals flip-flop or vote against these measures. But who can blame them for being misguided? Their leader cannot even put the province on the map.

Government AppointmentsOral Questions

3 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe NDP Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, after an unexplained transfer of $15,000 from his campaign budget to RMG and harassing calls asking for donations, former Conservative MP Bernard Généreux is in hot water once again. Le Soleil reports that he may have either tried to transfer money from a riding budget to the Conservative Party through the purchase of 200,000 sheets of paper or illegally contributed to party's funding by paying the bill himself months after his defeat. And yet, he was appointed to the Quebec Port Authority. Accordingly, is the propensity to transfer donations from a riding to the Conservative Party the type of skill the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities was talking about yesterday to justify these partisan appointments?

Government AppointmentsOral Questions

3 p.m.

Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière Québec

Conservative

Jacques Gourde ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, those are false allegations. Those were legitimate expenses of the hon. member. In this case, the former MP paid much of the cost out of his own pocket.

I have here on hand an ad that proves that the hon. member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup takes himself for Columbo. Instead of using the House of Commons budget to do his own work, he is using it to do the work of Elections Canada, despite the guidelines sent out by Elections Canada.

Foreign AffairsOral Questions

3 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Prime Minister. In order to gain a $3 billion deal of sale of uranium yellow cake to China, we had to relax our regulatory requirements and reporting requirements.

As a party to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, we are required to verifiably ensure that no Canadian uranium ends up in nuclear weapons.

My question is: How will we do this, what reporting requirements exist and what was relaxed?

Foreign AffairsOral Questions

3 p.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean Ontario

Conservative

John Baird ConservativeMinister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, let me assure the House that Canada strongly supports the international convention and all of our legal obligations on nuclear non-proliferation.

The agreement we have with China is consistent with all of those agreements and ensures that appropriate safeguards are in place. This agreement will also help create badly needed jobs in Canada, and just as importantly will help China generate non-emission electricity, which will lead to less pollution and better air quality for people in China. We are very proud to play a part in that.

Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and EthicsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Andrews Liberal Avalon, NL

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order in hopes that you can shed some light on an issue arising out of committee proceedings today.

At this morning's meeting of Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, the committee went in camera to deal with an amendment and a motion that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister had moved during the public portion of today's meeting. My understanding of the rules is that all in camera meeting proceedings are deemed secret and that only decisions of the committee are printed in those minutes.

My party has sought advice from a committee clerk in the past and we have been clearly told that decisions taken by a committee during in camera sessions can only be publicly disclosed once the clerk of the committee has published the minutes. This is the explicit advice that we have received from a senior clerk of the most senior committee of the House of Commons.

I was alarmed today when I read a tweet from Kady O'Malley in which the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister disclosed a decision of the committee prior to the minutes being published. The tweet appeared at 11:53 a.m., while the minutes were not posted until 1:10 p.m. today.

I would ask you, Mr. Speaker, given the clear advice that we have received from the senior clerk on the most senior committee of the House of Commons, if you could clarify the rules of in camera committee proceedings and if there is a breach, I would ask you to address it.

The Conservative party likes to use in camera to block Canadians from seeing what their elected representatives are doing. Conservatives use this tactic to kill studies and motions that are embarrassing to them. The use of in camera meetings by the Conservatives is a stain on our democracy. In typical fashion, the Conservatives are trying to have it both ways. They cannot on one hand use in camera to block Canadians from seeing what their elected representatives are doing, while at the same time breaking in camera rules when they see fit.

This is typical behaviour from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and shows how he lacks credibility. He accuses members of making unnamed robocalls, yet he has done worse. He sent out calls that were somewhat to impersonate the local MPP to cynically try to convince voters to vote for him.

I look forward to your ruling, Mr. Speaker.

Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and EthicsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I do not know the matters of which the hon. member is complaining, but I do know that it is a well-established practice that issues of this nature are dealt with at the committee and by the committee.

Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and EthicsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, at the end of the statement just made by the member, he made an allegation which is fundamentally false. In fact, it is absolutely untrue what he indicated. I ask that he withdraw that, because he knows what he just said to be absolutely untrue.

Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and EthicsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I thank hon. members for their interventions. I will draw their attention to page 149 of O'Brien and Bosc when dealing with issues that may arise from committee. It says:

Speakers have consistently ruled that, except in the most extreme situations, they will only hear questions of privilege arising from committee proceedings upon presentation of a report which directly deals with the matter and not as a question of privilege raised by an individual Member.

In the absence of a report from that committee, I do not know what the Speaker can do about what is alleged to have happened. However, if such a report does end up coming to the House then the Speaker will consider it then.

Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and EthicsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Andrews Liberal Avalon, NL

Mr. Speaker, thank you for your clarification. I would like to inform the House that given your ruling, the Liberals will be scrumming after all in camera meetings to lift the veil of secrecy the Conservatives continue to drape over committees of this Parliament.

Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and EthicsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, as one of those who pledges to uphold the rules of the House, as do other House officers and all members pledge, I find the statement of the hon. member of his intention to violate the rules of the House, and to make that statement on behalf of his entire party that this is their intention in practice in future at all committees, to be one that is very alarming. It may well come close to drawing the attention that you require, as Speaker, to intervene.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, on a separate point of order, during question period the Liberal leader made a couple of assertions that were fundamentally false. In fact, they are completely untrue. The leader of the Liberal party indicated that the Conservative Party of Canada was under “investigation”. It is not.

He also said—

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I just want to stop the member. I hope he has a point of order and is not continuing debate. Question period is over and when statements are made by any member of the opposition, the parliamentary secretary is quite adept at responding to those. I hope he does have a legitimate point of order and is not just arguing the facts.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to call upon the member to withdraw the two statements that he made, given the fact that they are both false.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, on the point of the order that the parliamentary secretary raised, the fact of the matter is that the—

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I will stop the member there because, as I just indicated, there was no point of order raised by the parliamentary secretary. Therefore, I do not really see how it could be responded to because it does not exist in the first place.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. As a member of the government, as a member of the Conservative caucus, I have to say it is my privilege to tell the House that the member for Peterborough is a man of great integrity and he is doing a great job for the people of Peterborough.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Similarly, I find that is not a point of order either. Maybe the minister can avail the rubric statements by ministers if he wants to make a declaration like that.

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:10 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, on Government Business No. 10, I move:

That debate be not further adjourned.

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Pursuant to Standing Order 67.1 there will now be a 30 minute question period. As we have done in the past, I will ask the member to keep their questions to about a minute and the responses to a similar length so we can accommodate as many members as possible.

Questions, the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh.

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think people in the House, who may not understand what just happened with this motion, is that the House leader for the government is invoking closure, doing it on a bill that flies in the face of the long-standing practices of allowing collective bargaining to go on without interference from governments, whether it be the federal government or provincial government. It is also a continuation of a pattern by the government of running roughshod, using tactics like this, both time allocation and closure.

We look at this and ask what the urgency is on this legislation. The Minister of Labour has issued a directive that prevents a strike at this point, or a lockout, at Air Canada, for that sector of our transportation system. It is a situation where this is a duplication. The government has already made it impossible for there to be a lockout or a strike, an interruption of the operations of Air Canada, by a directive that she gave last week. Therefore, where is the urgency with regard to this legislation? How can Conservatives possibly justify invoking closure?

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:10 p.m.

Halton Ontario

Conservative

Lisa Raitt ConservativeMinister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, the reason why we would invoke closure on this matter is very simply because this is in the best interests of the Canadian public, both from an economy point of view, where a work stoppage at Air Canada would have a significant negative effect on Canada's recovering economy, and in a public interest point of view. One million Canadians who are travelling this week would be affected because they would be stranded with no available means to return home. That is the impetus for it.

With respect to the member's assertion that the reference to the Canadian Industrial Relations Board is something that makes it not as urgent, he is incorrect. Once the matter is with the CIRB, it is in its hands as to how long it takes for it to reach a decision. I therefore have no certainty as to how long it would be prior to the ability of a strike or a lockout to occur. As such, the government is acting, as it should, to intervene in the best interests of Canadians.

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, obviously Canadians have a great deal of concern with respect to the approach taken by the government when dealing with legislation by trying to force things through with time allocation.

This evening we will sit into the wee hours voting because the government is trying to force labour legislation through. We have seen the government drop the ball in terms of protecting workers at Air Canada. I can only cite things such as the overall maintenance bases to the pilot bases in the city of Winnipeg, as an example, where individuals have lost their jobs and others have been transferred out of their location. The government had an obligation to defend those workers through the Air Canada privatization act and it dropped the ball. Now the Minister of Labour is saying that she knows best and she is not prepared to allow free collective bargaining.

Why has the minister given up on the employees at Air Canada?

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Conservative Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are seeking to move labour legislation through the House quickly this evening, as has been done 35 other times in the history of this Parliament since 1950, 19 times by the third party, as a way to ensure we avoid a work stoppage. It is an issue of national significance. I would invite the hon. member and his party to support us in that in order to ensure the public interest is upheld.

With respect to labour relations, it is important for the member to remember the fact that these workers have been at the negotiating table for 17 months. In both cases these workers have concluded tentative agreements. In both cases the union leadership was unable to get ratification by its membership.

We are very concerned. Outside conciliators and inside mediators have all been trying to help the parties reach an agreement. This is the process we are putting in place to help them get a collective agreement.

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, with this government and its time allocation motions, we as parliamentarians are starting to become used to being knocked around and to our rights and privileges not being respected.

Now, with what this minister has just done, a precedent has been set in labour relations. Before there is even a conflict in an enterprise under federal jurisdiction, is she going to hang a sword of Damocles over labour relations, over the heads of the workers and even the employers, by bringing in special legislation every time? Is that her intention?

At the moment, that is exactly the message she is sending. She did it with Canada Post; she did it, with even more malice, in my opinion, with Air Canada. Is it the government's intention to no longer respect labour relations?

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Conservative Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I take great offence to the member indicating there is any malice involved in anything we do with respect to labour relations. Our motive is clear. We attempt to help the parties reach deals at the table. When it becomes apparent that it is impossible to do so, and that usually is by receiving a strike notice or a lockout notice, the government then acts in the best interests of Canadians, and that is exactly what we will do. We are standing with Canadians and the public interest in protecting the economy. That is our motivation. It is very simple. That is exactly why Canadians voted for a Conservative majority government last year.

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would remind the minister that there is no work stoppage right now, there is no lockout, there is no strike, yet the government is invoking closure on a mechanism that would put an end to a work stoppage that does not exist. It is completely absurd.

I also remind the minister that if she continues on this path, she will consistently send a message to employers that there is no need to engage in collective bargaining because she has their back. She is the Minister of Labour, not the Minister of Industry.

When will she start to stand up for labour, for workers in our country, and allow them to engage in free collective bargaining?

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Conservative Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, as we have indicated already, the process involved with these two distinct unions has led to, and concluded with their management, tentative agreements that were rejected by their membership. That poses a difficulty for us in that we do not have collective agreements in a sector which we deem, and have said, is of national significance to the economy and to the travelling public.

I also remind the member that we are essentially invoking closure in order to move this process forward in the event of a work stoppage. We want to put a process in place that will be available to the parties to bring certainty and stability in an area currently where there is none. The position of the opposition, which is to allow a strike, allow a work stoppage to occur that would harm the economy, to send thousands of people home without jobs, is quite egregious and unacceptable. Those members should vote with us to move this through fast.

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I do not agree with what the minister has just said. In fact, what she is doing with this process of limiting the time for debate is destroying the process that seeks to find lasting solutions between labour unions and employers. This kind of government intervention does not correct problems in the long term. It is up to the partners to find a solution.

What will the minister do the next time there is a problem in arriving at a signed contract? Is she going to intervene immediately again?

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Conservative Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, absolutely not.

As Minister of Labour and within the labour program, our goal and key objective is to ensure that the parties reach a deal themselves. Indeed we provide preventive mediation services so that they can have discussions prior to going to the bargaining table. It is at the bargaining table where issues become sharpened and there is the difficulty of perhaps not reaching a collective agreement, which is what happened in this case.

I also would point out to the member that her party, 19 times out of 35, actually brought in this type of intervention. Therefore it is not something that is unheard of; it is something that is quite acceptable. Working in the public interest makes a lot of sense.

The final point is this: I think it is important to note what the member said. The parties still have an opportunity to find the solution themselves. They now clearly understand and know the government's intention with respect to a process for them to find their own way. If they can do it themselves, it is completely open to them to find their own solution to this matter. I wish them the best.

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, over the last number of days I received a number of telephone calls from parents in my riding, moms and dads who were really concerned about the uncertainty about travel, and from businessmen who were very concerned about the uncertainty for their businesses that may rely on air cargo to bring things to their businesses in order for them to thrive.

Could the minister please outline for the House why the expeditious passage of this legislation would provide certainty and stability to Canadian businesses and put the minds of the parents in my riding of Simcoe—Grey at ease about travel over March break?

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Conservative Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, indeed those are the issues that matter, the issues in the public interest of Canada.

It is not about what happens at the bargaining table that has to be the first and foremost consideration. There has been ample time, 18 months, to get to the point of a strike notice and lockout notice at the same time.

What we are offering is a process for the parties to put themselves into, in order to get the stability that is needed so that the million Canadians who are travelling during the March break will have the security of knowing that they can travel back to their homes or that they can travel to their next destination.

We are acting in the best interest of Canadians.

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is a serious situation and we are concerned. We are wondering if the workers in this country still have a fundamental right known as the right to strike and to use pressure tactics. We have the impression that, every time such a situation is on the horizon, with Air Canada or Canada Post, the Conservative government takes out its big stick, its bazooka, and tries to crush workers who only want to exercise their rights.

We are told that the economic situation is worrisome. This will always be the case with a government that does not respect workers' rights.

Air Canada has already been put on notice. At this point, there can be no strike or lockout. Why is special legislation needed? Why force workers to go back to work when the health and safety of Canadians is not at stake? And it is not true; there has not yet been a single minute of pressure tactics, strike or lockout. It is completely unwarranted.

How can the minister justify the government's decision?

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Conservative Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, 94% of the time, collective agreements are settled without any kind of assistance from the federal conciliation and mediation services. Indeed, they bring them to a close and they do it themselves.

There are very few times that we end up having to have hands-on deliberations and discussions with the parties. Further, there are even fewer times that we have a situation where we have a right to strike notice or lockout notice given to the government from a sector that has national significance. That is precisely the case at this point in time.

I think it is also important to note that perhaps the member should ask his constituents whether or not it is something that is important to them. I would bet that lots of families and business people within that constituency understand the importance of their ability to travel and of the economic recovery, and want their interests to be heard by their member as opposed to his kowtowing to union bosses.

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have a question on the history of legislation for the minister. She had rightfully identified that past Liberal governments have introduced back to work legislation on 18 different occasions since 1950. The last one was an action taken with respect to a postal strike. Canada Post workers had been out on strike for eight days. That was back in the late nineties. Legislation was passed through the House to get them back to work, but there was a strike of eight days that had an impact on an essential service.

As I think she may be somewhat of a pioneer here, my question to the minister is this. Would she know if this is the first time that legislation to limit the debate on back to work legislation preceded that back to work legislation? Is she aware if this is the first time this has ever happened? She may be a pioneer.

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Conservative Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, all I can say is that only a member from that third party in the corner would take pride in an economic disaster, a strike or a lockout, that would damage the economy for a certain period of time and view it as a good thing. Clearly, it certainly did help labour relations at Canada Post when they were allowed to strike for eight days because we invariably saw what happened this past summer.

To answer the hon. member's question, I believe that this is the first time that we are introducing pre-emptive legislation.

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, my question is on time allocation. The minister is talking about time allocation. This building was built to accommodate debate, to put forth arguments to the government and to find a way to come to an agreement. However, it is the 17th time that the government does that. In this case, the bill had not even come in yet and time allocation was already brought in.

The minister said that she believed she was a pioneer. I think the current government is the only government we will see do that with a smile and be happy about it. I can say this. If I asked Canadians if they wanted the Conservatives to be the governing party they would say no, but they have to live with that, like it or not.

In this case, the minister agreed that time allocation is taking rights away from the workers. However, it also takes away the rights of parliamentarians to be able to express themselves and try to come to a solution.

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Conservative Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would just point out to the member that in the case of a work stoppage, in his own riding his constituents would lose complete services of an air carrier, as it is one of the constituencies in Canada that would cease to have any kind of air travel in and out of the area. I would ask him to ask his constituents whether or not they are in favour of him putting aside their public interests by siding with the unions.

There is an absolute urgency in this matter. We want to make sure that Canadians have certainty. We will do what we need to do to protect the Canadian economic recovery. However, there is nothing to say that the parties, even with this legislation in place, cannot make their own deals and cannot have their own discussions. In fact, we encourage them to go back to the table.

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the minister almost wears this like a badge of honour. She is now a pioneer. She is bringing in this legislation before anything has been done. She has not allowed for collective bargaining.

She calls herself the Minister of Labour. She should maybe look at changing the title to minister of corporations or back to work legislation. This is not a minister who has shown any compassion to the workers. She puts her finger up and she talks about political winds, but she is prepared to walk all over the labour movement.

Why is the minister so eager to disrespect the Air Canada labourers, workers and their families? Why this badge of honour? What is the great hurry? Why break all the rules and try to speed this thing through in 24 hours in order to have this badge of honour?

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Conservative Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have great respect for all the workers in this country. It is because of the workers in this country that our country is so good. The workers make us the great nation that we are. We are not missing that at all. In fact, that is why our government is concerned about jobs, growth and economic recovery. It is to make sure that we continue to grow and prosper as a country.

That being said, when one sits in government, one has to look out for the interests of all Canadians and not just a select few. As we have said, the best interest of Canadians and Canadian businesses is to ensure that there is not a work stoppage at this airline, either by strike or by lockout. That is why we are intervening. It is with great respect to Canadians that we do so.

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the minister what she has been doing to assist the parties to come to a conclusion. I suppose at some point, if the parties are unable to do so, there must be some sort of process that does not hurt the employer or employee. If they stay off they will suffer certain consequences.

Also, there are other people who are dependent upon that service. Is there a need for a process to ensure that all of the interests are balanced and protected? It there a process that can bring this to a conclusion that is satisfactory for everyone involved?

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Conservative Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will speak about the machinists' union because it is a very pertinent chronology.

We appointed an outside conciliator, Madam Justice Louise Otis, a retired jurist from Quebec, in December to help the parties reach a deal. Indeed, she reached a deal with the parties at the table. She wrote a conciliation commissioner's report which she gave to me and the other two parties. It was written after the membership rejected the tentative agreement. This is what she said about the situation and the deal:

Taking into consideration the situation of the Parties, the tentative agreement is reasonable and fair. The negotiation process, which was carried out diligently and competently, has been exhausted. I do not recommend that negotiations be resumed or that a mediator be appointed. Under the full circumstances, I consider that a reasonable agreement had been reached.

We hope that in the case of this union and management team that, through the final selection offer, they will find their way again.

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am sorry to say, but the minister has it all wrong. This is not an emergency situation. Emergency plans are made when there is a strike. Furthermore, the employees and the unions put these emergency plans into action.

Second, there are other carriers in Canada, such as Porter, Air Expresso and others that could provide transportation services. There is also the train. Tourism or returning home after the March break does not constitute an emergency, far from it.

The government should be a little more respectful of workers, negotiate more, and not proceed as it did with Canada Post, that is, opt for a lockout. We may be moving in that direction, but we should not be. We must respect workers' opinions.

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Conservative Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member brings up a good point that we have not been able to deal with yet which is: What happens in the event of a work stoppage? As I indicated before, we believe it will have an effect on the economy. However, realistically, what happens to the passengers is the question.

Because of the market share that Air Canada enjoys both domestically and internationally, and in its cargo carrying capacity, it is just the simple rule of math that the other carriers cannot absorb those who would be left behind by Air Canada. As a result, there would be a stranding. The reasons being, first, the carriers are flying with good business plans and are near capacity. In fact, WestJet reported an 80% capacity on its flights in January. Therefore, there is very little room for Air Canada passengers. Second, there are Transport Canada rules and regulations that pilots, flight crews and aircraft have to abide by.

It is not that simple for people to find alternate transportation, especially when it comes to airlines. Quite frankly, the majority of the letters we are receiving in the ministry regarding this matter are on the difficulty of rebooking for those Canadian families and business travellers.

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, as someone who has been through the bargaining process over a number of years, I see this intervention by the minister as actually making the bargaining playing field unlevel. Bargaining is typically set up so that when a strike or lockout occurs, it is a difficult situation for the general public, who may indeed need the service. However, more important, it is actually a huge sacrifice by workers. It is not just an easy piece for them to go on the picket line and all will be well; it is an extremely difficult decision. The decision on whether they want to go on strike or not was actually taken by the workers who voted to do that.

Is the minister suggesting that somehow every time we get into a situation like this, regardless of the industry, whether federal or private, we will see this type of legislation? In fact, in this particular case there is actually some federal regulation but it is not a federal crown corporation; it is actually a private company.

Are we going to see this type of legislation every single time we have some labour negotiations that are not going well or may result in a strike of a lockout? Is the government simply going to say, “Well, we're not going to let you go down that path even though it is legal“? Will it say, “We are simply going to tell you that we'll enact the settlement, we'll push you to the wall, and at the end of the day we'll simply disrupt the bargaining process and we won't have bargaining at all”? If that is the case, maybe the government should help the employers and unions understand that there is no sense in negotiating, that they should just apply for binding arbitration and never bother negotiating because the negotiations will not come to a conclusion.

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Halton Ontario

Conservative

Lisa Raitt ConservativeMinister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, the member sets out the case exactly with respect to bargaining at the table. The biggest hammer one has is that employees can withdraw their services and go on strike, and employers can lock out the employees.

What the employees lose, as the member points out, are their wages. The unions lose their membership fees. In the case of the employers, they lose their profits, their income.

However, what we are saying here today is that there is another party not at that table, and that is the Canadian public. Not in every case do we intervene whatsoever; it has to pass the test of national significance, and it does here. It is an economic issue, especially when we are recovering from a global economic setback. As well, it is an issue of the travelling public simply not having an alternative and being stranded elsewhere.

That is the side the Conservative government is on. We do not pick sides at the table. We do not think about what is happening at the table, necessarily, other than to try to help them get a deal. We think about the Canadian public's interest when it becomes apparent that no deal is forthcoming and a work stoppage is about to happen.

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, just to continue this line of discussion by my my NDP colleague, when the minister talks about three parties being involved, the public, the enterprise, and the workers, of course all members of the Liberal Party and others on this side of the House are aware that this is a difficult situation. However, it was a decision by the Conservative government that it was in the public interest to pre-emptively bring in legislation and to make this unprecedented move.

I do want to note that when the member of Parliament for Cape Breton—Canso brought up the significant fact that this is the first time ever, the response by the minister was disrespectful, smug, and belittling. The fact of the matter is, Liberal MPs are aware that we are the third party, but that has absolutely nothing to do with this issue. Every parliamentarian in this House, every MP, equally represents the constituents in his or her riding, which is what the member for Cape Breton—Canso was doing.

I would request that the minister reflect on this decision made by the current government and her as one that is not accepted by others as being in the national interest. In fact, allowing a bargaining process to take its path is in the public interest, and there should be an apology by the minister to the member for Cape Breton—Canso for the disrespectful way in which she responded.

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Halton Ontario

Conservative

Lisa Raitt ConservativeMinister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I do understand what the member is saying but, unfortunately, what I said is also accurate. What I said is that the government's position on this, and why we are intervening prior to an actual work stoppage, is that we believe that the effects on the economy would be great. Therefore, this government is acting in order to ensure that it does not happen.

It think it is a fair point to say that it should not be a source of pride to allow the economy to be affected for a period of time because of the fact that two parties at the table cannot come to an agreement. At the end of the day, there may have been a strike or a lockout whenever the third party at the time did indeed intervene, but they waited and the economic hit was there already and they still had to bring in back to work legislation. What this government is saying is that we want to avoid the economic hit. We know it is going to happen. We do not want it to happen during this economic recovery period. In fact, that is exactly what we indicated to Canadians we would do, and that is to protect the economy. This is very much part of what our promise is to Canadians, to look out for the Canadian public interest.

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It is my duty to interrupt the proceedings at this time and put forthwith the question on the motion now before the House. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those opposed will please say nay.

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedAir Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #157

Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried.

The House resumed from March 12 consideration of the motion.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Western Arctic has 12 minutes left to complete his remarks.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I am once again not pleased even to have a second opportunity to debate this particular motion, because the motion has once again shown an authoritarian side on the part of the government towards the labour component in this country.

The government has come up with basically two arguments to justify its work stoppage action at this time.

First it talked about the economy and the detrimental effects potential work stoppage would have on it. The Minister of Labour herself referred to a figure of $22.4 million per week lost to the Canadian economy if the strike went ahead. This is the figure that the government has presented us with to understand the nature of the effect on the economy.

That $22.4 million per week amounts to less than nine one-hundredths of a per cent of the economy of this country. It is really not a very large figure when we consider the economy of our country at $1.3 trillion per year.

The labour minister has indicated that this loss to the economy is greater than the loss of the values that we have established in this country for collective bargaining and has made that determination based upon those numbers.

I find that to be very misleading with regard its impact on the economy and the need to move ahead with this thing, this bill, this closure, this stoppage of work action by both the company and the union involved with Air Canada.

In some ways our aviation industry has been hamstrung by the government over the past number of years. The New Democratic Party, and I myself as transport critic in the last Parliament, have stood in Parliament and talked about the impact that the government is making with its excessive airport rents, which in one year amount to about $257 million to the aviation industry. The air travellers security charge amounts to a $394 million charge against our Canadian companies. Fuel taxes are $40 million. A total of $748 million is levied against the industry.

The industry has to compete worldwide and it has to compete with American domestic carriers with airports located near our borders. The industry is under pressure, so of course it is trying to cut back on its labour component.

Let us look at the labour component in this as well. According to Transport Canada, air carrier cost breakdowns are as follows: labour is 17% of the costs of aviation transport in Canada; fuel is 32%; airport fees are 10% ; capital costs are 9.6%; purchase services are 5.6%; and other is 24%.

What we can see is that in reality, the problems with our aviation industry come back to the costs that it has to bear from the current government and previous governments, which have set up our airports as cash cows. Where does it come back to? It comes back to labour. It comes back to the labour component as a way to reduce its costs. It cannot do it with fuel, as fuel is internationally regulated. Other costs are also not subject to change, so where does the industry look for savings? It looks for it in labour, and our unions stand up.

What we have is a situation in which unions are standing up for their employees, government is sitting back collecting huge sums of money off the aviation industry, and the industry is in the middle. That is not a good situation.

What has the federal government done about that? Its response over and over again is, “We do not not care. We are not worried about the aviation industry”.

However, when it comes to the unions standing up for their workers, that is a different matter. When it comes to the money that the government collects from the aviation industry, it will just keep on doing exactly that.

When we look at the situation that we are facing today, we are looking at a government that is becoming increasingly authoritarian in its behaviour. It now considers applying back to work legislation to be just part of the routine. It considers it just part of the routine to reduce the debate that takes place in the House of Commons.

Quite quickly over the last year it has moved more and more toward an authoritarian type of behaviour. It is happy with it. Where it will lead us in the future remains to be seen, but it will not lead us in a direction that is going to be acceptable to Canadians, and we will see that over time.

The type of action that has been taken today is anathema to everyone who believes in Canadian values, in collective bargaining, in the rights of workers and the right of democratic discourse in the House of Commons. The bill takes a shot at a lot of us, and yes, we are standing up. We on this side will continue to stand up against those types of actions.

The minister has not proven her case. One statistic about how this is impacting the economy is all she provides to us in her speech. That is the analysis that she expects us to buy and live with for this type of legislation.

The other interesting subject that was brought up was the impact of the work stoppage at Air Canada on northern and isolated communities. Air Canada is hardly a major influence in the aviation industry in northern Canada. There are a couple of flights to Yellowknife and a couple of flights to Whitehorse. Both of those locations are well serviced by experienced northern airlines that provide regular service to southern destinations and also provide service through the whole of the north of Canada. These are good airlines. They are working hard to provide the service that Air Canada does not provide there and will not provide there. The situation there is that if the strike goes ahead, if the work stoppage were to go ahead, there would be no impact on northern communities; northern communities do not see Air Canada as an essential service, and for the government to even make that suggestion is completely wrong.

We are going to go through this exercise here today and tonight and we will end up with more back to work legislation enforced by the government. This is a situation that is intolerable, but is a situation we will have to endure for a while yet. Sooner or later the Canadian population will wake up to what is going on here, and when they do, the government will suffer the consequences.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I hope the House was listening closely to the hon. member's remarks, because he made a lot of good points.

The fact is our aviation industry is not as competitive because of the costs the government imposes on it, everything from airport fees to taxes. He made a valid point in that the labour costs to the airline only account for 17%.

In the debate thus far, the government has been blaming the unions for not being able to get their membership to agree. I am of the view that, yes, the labour unions did the negotiations. They thought they had a deal. They know how the government operates by trying to impose its will. The government's policy is always to use back to work legislation. There is a certain amount of fear.

The union membership, which is democracy in and of itself, said no. The union members see the consequences on their families and communities in what the government is constantly doing by taking the side of management.

Does the member see that this is just more of the same old process? The government has signalled to labour unions and workers everywhere that it is coming down on the side of management, it is imposing its will and its fear on Canadians, and as a result, we are seeing these kinds of labour disputes and legislation to force them back to work.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I could not agree more with my hon. colleague that this is the situation that faces us.

We have all recognized that the Air Canada work stoppage that was projected by the company was probably a ruse based on the company's understanding of what the government was planning to do. It could take some of the heat off the government for its anti-labour position. That is quite clear. It does not take a lot of thought to come to that conclusion.

The government is creating a new society for Canadians, one in which workers' rights are severely limited. The ability of corporations to enter into arrangements that better suit them is their primary objective. This is a corporate government. This is a government that sees the corporations as the most important segment of society. That is what it will do over and over again. That is the way it plays this game.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like the hon. member to clarify one thing that he said. I believe he said that the work stoppage would have no effect on northern Canadians.

I am from a riding in northern B.C. It is almost exclusively serviced by Air Canada. Could the hon. member please clarify his statement that it would have no effect on Canadians?

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I remember my travels through northern B.C. last year on Central Mountain Air, an excellent carrier that provides service from Edmonton and other locations in Alberta through northern B.C. I would say that in most cases, most of northern Canada is covered by secondary carriers in a good fashion. They are available to people for use in a difficult situation as such.

We would certainly not be in the situation of needing to get vaccines and not being able to move around the country because of the lack of service by Air Canada, as suggested by the member for Simcoe—Grey yesterday.

The issues around northern aviation are such that any rational look at the industry would see there are alternatives to Air Canada available at all times.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I come from a rural riding as well. I find that Air Canada's main role where I live is to be a predator to the other airlines that actually do give proper service. Air Canada only services the slightly profitable runs. It makes the rest of the riding very difficult to service by other airlines. They have to increase their prices exponentially.

I am wondering what the member thinks about the government's presenting bills of this nature. How exactly does it help the average Canadian to protect a company that seems to have predatory practices to keep any competition out of the market?

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, the description the hon. member makes about Air Canada can be applied to Yellowknife and Whitehorse. I am sure the people who live in those places will say that the airline provides limited service to major centres. Airlines like First Air, Canadian North, Air North, those that provide service to many small communities throughout the north and which are absolutely essential to the development of northern Canada, find themselves at a disadvantage dealing with their main market area because of the presence of Air Canada and, to a lesser extent, WestJet.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, as MPs we all spend a fair amount of time in airports. Most people have petty grievances with Air Canada, I am sure: their bags did not show up at their destination; a flight was delayed for mechanical reasons. Some people blame the weather on the employees. Whatever it might be, everybody has petty grievances with Air Canada.

Ten years ago Air Canada filed for bankruptcy and the employees of that company took rollbacks, which they have not recovered from yet. They have not recouped the same amount of wages from when they took rollbacks 10 years ago. That accrues to $2 billion in wages over that 10-year period.

Does he agree that Canadians think it is time the employees of Air Canada were treated fairly? They did their part to help the airline. I would like my colleague's comments on that. Do Canadians understand that it is time for the employees of Air Canada to share in some of its success?

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, the government cannot have it both ways. It cannot say this is an essential public service and then charge the outrageous security fees and airport rents that it is charging. The U.S. does not do that. The U.S. recognizes that its airports are a public service and provides them at a reasonable rate to the airlines. These airlines are being squeezed by the government and the airlines are squeezing their employees. That is what is happening in this industry. Why does the government not recognize that? We have lobbied for that time and time again over the last number of years. Will the Conservatives listen, rather than being the ineffective shopkeepers they are toward the economy?

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order, please. I have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received as follows:

Government House

Ottawa

March 13th, 2012

Mr. Speaker:

I have the honour to inform you that the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, signified royal assent by written declaration to the bill listed in the Schedule to this letter on the 13th day of March, 2012, at 3:32 p.m.

Yours sincerely,

Stephen Wallace

The schedule indicates that the bill assented to on Tuesday, March 13, 2012 was Bill C-10, An Act to enact the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act and to amend the State Immunity Act, the Criminal Code, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and other Acts.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière Québec

Conservative

Jacques Gourde ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, I am going to share my time with the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley.

Since March 6, Canadians have been on their toes, concerned about suffering the consequences of the dispute between Air Canada and its technical, maintenance and operational support employees and pilots.

Almost 8,200 employees work in the technical, maintenance and operational support unit represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Those employees play a vital role, a role that requires very specific skills. They are the ones who ensure the smooth operation of the aircraft fleet and the safety of passengers and crew members. Without them, planes would obviously not take off.

Almost 3,000 pilots are represented by the Air Canada Pilots Association. The pilots are responsible for operating aircraft, for passenger and crew safety, and for all the decisions after takeoff.

Across Canada, the possibility of a work stoppage at Air Canada is causing serious concern. This is proving to be a very difficult situation for the passengers directly affected. It is very serious for Air Canada, which could suffer significant commercial and financial losses. It is dangerous for our economy on the whole.

Let us first talk about the serious consequences this dispute could have for passengers. Clearly, a work stoppage would leave thousands of travellers stranded. Together, Air Canada and Air Canada Express serve over 32 million customers annually and provide direct passenger service to over 170 destinations on five continents.

Let us consider Canadian entrepreneurs, many of whom do business across Canada and around the world. A cancellation, delay or even a postponement could make them miss an opportunity to conclude a contract, carry out an important transaction or sell their products.

Let us also think about Canadians who made vacation plans. They may have no other choice but to cancel their plans and their reservations if they cannot find another way to get to their destination. During the break week, over 1 million passengers will fly on Air Canada's regular flights.

Let us also think about those who take flights to visit their loved ones, attend an important conference or go to work somewhere else in their region.

For some destinations there are other airlines that can offer the same service, provided, of course, that there are still seats available on the flights. But how much will that cost?

It is also important to note that the domestic airlines have limited capacity. There is nothing to say that these competitors would be able to offer the same service within a reasonable time frame.

For Canadian destinations, things become even more complicated, and in some remote regions there simply is no additional capacity and therefore no alternative.

For the company itself, the losses could be devastating in the event of a work stoppage and a prolonged dispute.

I think it is important to remember here that the airline industry as a whole has been under significant pressure since the events of September 11, 2001, pressure that the global economic crisis has exacerbated.

Factors such as fluctuating demand, enhanced security measures and rising fuel prices have jeopardized the profitability of airlines around the world. Air Canada, the largest full-service airline in Canada, is no exception.

Let us not forget that in 2003, Air Canada had to start operating under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act.

Thanks to major investments from the private sector and the Government of Canada, the company was able to restructure and get out from under bankruptcy protection in September 2004.

Let us also not forget that barely four years ago, the future of the company was again uncertain because of its financial difficulties.

The recession and Air Canada's contractual obligations have brought additional challenges. In 2008, in order to avoid bankruptcy, Air Canada had to secure additional loans so that it could survive in the short term. The company was also able to extend its collective agreements without work stoppages. On a number of occasions in recent years, the company has had to restructure and make cuts to its human and financial resources in order to maintain its viability.

Air Canada would be economically unstable if a work stoppage became a reality. Air Canada is already operating close to a basic level of viability. The largest full-service air carrier in Canada, serving more than 32 million clients annually, could be driven into bankruptcy. Then, 26,000 direct jobs would be in peril. Let me repeat, 26,000. Another 250,000 workers are indirectly linked to Air Canada and would be affected by a work stoppage. Many of those workers have families who count on the livelihood they provide. It is not just the company's viability that is at stake, it is its very existence. A prolonged work stoppage would be a damaging blow to the carrier—a blow that could be fatal—and, ultimately, to the economy as a whole.

A working document prepared in 2009 by the International Labour Organization shows that, for every job lost in an air carrier, from four to 10 other jobs will also be lost. Each week a strike lasts will cost the Canadian economy millions of dollars. The losses could reach $22.4 million for each week a strike lasts. Those estimates are based on the value of the trips or the shipments that would be cancelled, postponed or taken over by another carrier.

We cannot run the risk of jeopardizing the largest air cargo carrier in Canada, or the future of its workers and our economy.

In this period of global market uncertainty, nothing can be taken for granted. We must not take any chances. It would be completely irresponsible on our part to shrug our shoulders, let the dispute drag on and watch our economy slip backwards.

We have the proof that it is possible for the parties to come to an understanding. Just last June, the approximately 3,800 sales and customer service employees represented by the Canadian Auto Workers went on strike. After three days, the parties reached an agreement.

It is a fact that workforce stability is a key element in the smooth operation of the Canadian economy and in our continuing economic recovery.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am alarmed about the slippery slope that we are going down with this legislation. I wonder if the member could tell me which industry is next on the hit list.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question. I would like to add that we must act quickly and in an informed manner.

These are difficult, even heart-wrenching decisions. We must weigh the pros and cons and try to find a balance. It is always best for the parties to resolve the conflict themselves. We all agree on that point and it is our ultimate objective. In fact, 94% of negotiations in companies under federal jurisdiction are resolved satisfactorily without a work stoppage.

When every effort has been made to bring the parties closer together, when discussions have reached an impasse and when there is no indication of resolution, when the risks associated with a conflict are high, not just for the people and the company, but also for the economy of the entire country, it is clear that Parliament must act.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I find it almost unbelievable listening to this member of the governing party, in terms of the excuses. It is as if any excuse will do when taking away the rights of workers to allow the collective bargaining process to work. That is what the government has done. The member tries to justify it by saying it is a fragile economy. What about the workers?

Earlier my colleague talked about what Air Canada workers did in the restructuring. They have never regained the ground they lost from that point in time.

How much did Robert Milton take out of the economy when he left? Was it $100 million. What about the executive salaries at Air Canada that have gone up excessively, around 400% and more, into the millions of dollars while workers have still not returned to where they were in the Air Canada restructuring, and it was the workers who gave their all to save the airline?

Now the member sits there and uses the fragile economy as an excuse when it is all about destroying the collective bargaining process. That is the pattern they have set.

How does that member account for himself in taking that position in a free and democratic society?

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are very disappointed that the three parties have not reached an agreement. In view of the fragile state of our economy, a work stoppage is unacceptable. Our government is worried about the significant negative impact that Air Canada work stoppages would have on families and our national economy.

This is poor timing for thousands of Canadians, given that the March break is upon us and many Canadians will be travelling. I urge my colleagues to support the bill for the resumption and continuation of air services.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. I am sure there is a Standing Order that indicates that, when members stand to debate in the House, they do not read from a prepared statement. I also wonder if there is a special provision about whether members may have a prepared answer when asked a question, even before they know what the question is. I ask you to render a decision.

The member has answered questions with answers totally unrelated to the questions, from prepared statements. I ask you to rule on that matter.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso has made two points.

The first is whether the answer given is related to the question asked. This member is a veteran, and he will know that the Chair does not intervene in terms of determining whether answers are good or not.

The second is with respect to the issue around reading from prepared texts. There is a practice in the House that members on all sides do from time to time refer to prepared texts they have with them. Once again, the Chair has not ruled that members are not allowed to use prepared texts.

With that, I will go back to the parliamentary secretary, if he could quickly finish his answer to the question. The hon. parliamentary secretary.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say and reiterate that I gave very good answers to the opposition questions.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, allow me to explain on behalf of the Government of Canada why we believe it is so important that we act now to ensure the continuation and resumption of air service operations at Air Canada.

To be clear, we firmly believe the best solution is one that is arrived at by two parties together. In this case we are talking about three parties that are bargaining in two different labour disputes, yet that does not change the fact that the parties should work together to reach their own deal, because that is always the best deal, one they reach together.

However, that solution has not presented itself. As a result, Canadians now face not only the risk of grounded Air Canada services but also the risk of damage to our economy, and this is occurring at a time when our economy cannot withstand that damage. Our government's action to provide for the continuation and resumption of air service operations at Air Canada is the right solution to prevent harm to our economy.

The first federal back to work legislation in this country dates back to 1950 when the St. Laurent government tabled Bill 1, the Maintenance of Railway Operations Act. The bill was designed to put an end to a strike that had shut down the nation's rail system. Parliamentarians at that time understood the clear risk posed by paralysis in a major transportation sector. They took action and they spared Canada's economy from unnecessary harm. At the time, Canada was heavily dependent on railways to move people and goods across Canada. When freight trains slowed to a halt, everyone could see that our economy was bound to pay a heavy price. Bill 1 ordered an end to the strike and it imposed a process for settling the dispute between the railway workers and their employer, and within days the workers were back on the job.

There are important parallels between the rail strike of 1950 and what is at stake here with a looming work stoppage at Air Canada today. The federal government in 1950 took strong action, because it understood that a labour dispute between rail workers and their employer would affect far more than just the two parties at the negotiating table.

The risk today is just as real and just as far-reaching. Canada's economy, our international reputation as a trading partner, jobs, prosperity and the livelihoods of Canadian families are on the line as a result of these two labour disputes between Air Canada and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and between Air Canada and the Air Canada Pilots Association.

According to the International Labour Organization, for every job lost in the airline, between four and ten jobs could be lost in the economy. There is more than enough uncertainty in the global economy today as it is. Canada cannot afford to have a grounded airline. This would create havoc and doubt at a time when the world is tuning in to us as a great place to do business and a great place to invest.

Members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers make up the largest unionized workforce at Air Canada. There is no question about what a work stoppage involving this group would mean to daily operations at Air Canada, a company that is an integral part of this country's economy. The IAMAW has publicly stated in its own bulletin to its members that without them, all will be grounded.

Let us turn to the approximately 3,000 pilots represented by the Air Canada Pilots Association. It is quite obvious that a work stoppage involving this group would grind the airline to a halt. Air Canada would be grounded. In fact, the pilots themselves have stated that they think Air Canada is an essential service. Captain Paul Strachan, the president of the ACPA, said himself during testimony at the Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications when he was asked whether he considers Air Canada to be an essential service, “I think it's essential for this country. As we sit here today, it is absolutely essential. It is a cornerstone of our entire economy”. Even the pilots themselves, who are party to one of the labour disputes we are faced with today, admit it is essential for Air Canada to remain flying.

Consider what a sudden and complete stop in service would mean at Air Canada, Canada's largest air carrier. Business people might have to forgo meetings with clients, conventions could be cancelled at the last minute and air travellers might get stranded at airports and have to cancel their holidays. Each of these developments would carry a cost. Thus there can be no doubt that a work stoppage would weaken Canada's economy and Air Canada's reputation among the travelling public.

Air Canada and its unions have been at odds over pensions and wages since 2003. The labour dispute with the IAMAW has been evolving for some time. It was apparent that a negotiated settlement to be ratified by all parties was not going to be easy to achieve.

While a tentative contract settlement between Air Canada and the IAMAW was reached in February, the workers rejected this agreement. Subsequently, 78% of the members also voted in favour of giving the union a strike mandate. On March 6, the union provided the strike notice to the Minister of Labour.

The labour dispute with the ACPA has been evolving also for a significant period of time. Again, a tentative agreement was reached between Air Canada and the ACPA, yet ACPA's membership also voted to reject that agreement. Later in the year, 97% of the ACPA membership voted in favour of a strike mandate. On March 8, the employer, Air Canada, provided notice of its intention to lock out the pilots to the Minister of Labour.

Despite assistance from a conciliation commissioner, in the case of the IAMAW, and from two co-mediators, in the case of the ACPA, the three parties have been unable to resolve their differences. Meanwhile in its financial report issued last month, Air Canada said that it lost $80 million in the fourth quarter of 2011 alone. Air Canada continues today to face serious financial challenges, and has been trying to cut costs. The unions have made financial concessions in the past, but now they are not willing to do so.

Our government has done its best to assist these parties in reaching an agreement. It is now time for Parliament to do the right thing and support the government in its efforts to ensure the continuation and resumption of air service operations for Air Canada.

Let us consider this. In 2005 a one-day wildcat strike involving ground crew workers at Canada had the effect of delaying 60 flights and led to the cancellation of 19 others in Toronto alone. Reduced operations by Air Canada will also be very costly to Canadian airports, as well as Nav Canada, which operates our air navigation system.

The risks to our economy are very real, plus the future of Air Canada could be on the line. A work stoppage at Air Canada goes against the best interests of hard-working Canadians, Canadian and international business and the already fragile economy.

Therefore, I call on all members of the House to join me in acting to keep Air Canada flying, to maintain the confidence of the travelling public, to provide for the continuation and resumption of air service operations at Air Canada.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, what we are seeing is gross incompetence. It is not the economy that will be affected. The government has had since April 2011 to negotiate and it has not managed to reach an agreement with the union representatives. The problem is quite the opposite. If the Conservatives had done their job properly, we would not be in this situation. The new collective agreement would have been negotiated and would be in effect.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is not the job of the Government of Canada to negotiate a contract between Air Canada and its unions. We believe the best contract is one that the two sides negotiate together.

I know the NDP think we probably should get in there and just slam down a contract, taking large government action immediately, but that is not our role. Our role is to support the two parties so they can come together and find an agreement that both sides will support.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the fact that my colleague is answering questions and not reading prepared text. I really admire that in a member, especially a Conservative member.

I want to ask my colleague about a particular point. In past legislation that the minister has put forward, and I think back to the Canada Post legislation, she specifically prescribed in the legislation a wage rate for the employees of Canada Post. She stopped short of that in the upcoming legislation, but she asked the arbitrator to ensure that she recognized that.

If the minister wants to get that involved in the negotiations, does my colleague not believe she should also identify that the company should go back and top up the pension fund that has a shortfall of $3 billion? Does he think the pensioners at Air Canada exposed to this? The minister is looking after the company, but what about a big commitment to the pensioners at Air Canada, with the $3 billion shortfall in their pension fund?

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am so glad the member opposite admires me. It is terrific to have such support from the Liberal Party, as a member of Parliament in the Conservative Party.

The difference between Canada Post and Air Canada is this. Canada Post is a crown corporation under federal jurisdiction. The Minister of Labour is going to take different steps in that negotiation than she might in other negotiations across the country. As I said, the best solution is the one the parties can come to together. This is not a case where we are talking about just one union with another. There are two different labour disputes in this.

When it comes to pensions, we have to ensure that all sides are treated equally, both the union side and the management side.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, Air Canada is the sole supplier serving the city of Penticton, south Okanagan and my riding. Service interruption by Air Canada would cause significant hardship in my region. I am sure we are not the only community that would face such hardship.

In the hon. member's opinion, what effect would a work stoppage or service interruption have on our fragile economic recovery?

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, small airlines and all small airports across the country will suffer greatly because of any work stoppage at Air Canada. They are going to have trouble meeting their bottom lines. We need to ensure those small airlines are protected because they provide service to areas to which a lot of other airlines cannot get.

In my province of Nova Scotia, I am lucky to have the Halifax Stanfield International Airport in my riding. It is a major gateway. Millions of passengers pass through that year after year. We have very few gateways to Nova Scotia because our province is almost an island, and I am lucky to have two of them in my riding.

We have to ensure that tourist operations can have confidence that Air Canada will be flying. The Minister of State for Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency has been stating that tourism is a major economic driver in our area. It needs to have confidence that it can sell those tickets so it will have tourists coming into the riding and the province this year. We need to ensure we protect the economy of our tourist operators, small business and the economy of all Canadians across the country.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Winnipeg Centre.

I wish I was not rising in the House today to speak to this motion. I wish we were not facing yet another heavy-handed sledgehammer coming down from the government on the backs of workers who only want to do what I believe is their right under international labour conventions, which is the right to collective bargaining.

I have seen back to work legislation too many times in the House. However, what we have seen just in the last year makes me cringe. It smacks of unfairness. It smacks of scapegoating workers. This is the third time in a year that we have seen back to work legislation.

People who have been on strike and on the picket lines know it is not a decision that is taken lightly. It is basically withdrawing labour. That means financial hardship and disruption.

However, the idea that we have to go to the workers with this back to work legislation when they have not even gone on strike yet is quite incredible. They are not even at that point, but already the government, with all its power and might, is standing there waiting with a sledgehammer. I find it offensive that people do not have a due process and the right to collective bargaining.

I was in my riding over the weekend and British Columbia is seeing the same kind of approach from the B.C. Liberal government, which of course is a very good cousin of the federal Conservative government. There is the same kind of approach to teachers in British Columbia, where their rights are being run roughshod by the provincial government.

The issue of labour rights is a defining matter of who one is, what one stands for and what one speaks for. It is all too easy to always scapegoat workers. Yes, there are labour disruptions. At the end of the day, that is what going on strike is. It is using power by withdrawing the labour of the workers, but it does create an easy target.

It is easy to get the public riled up. Employers like to get people emotional about it. However, that is why we have labour laws, processes and labour relations boards. They try to ensure that there is a proper process in place so we do not get caught up in that emotion and lose sight of the fact that people do have a right to determine and participate in a process on decisions about their working conditions, safety, pensions and what their employer is or is not doing. That is why we have these processes. It is so easy to fuel that emotion and scapegoat workers. That is what we see with the Conservative government.

I am proud of the fact that in the NDP we do not do that. We actually stand on a principle that the process of collective bargaining is something that is meaningful and has a long history in our country. For heaven's sake, people have died for the right to collective bargaining, to belong to unions and to collectively use their power and opportunities to ensure that there are decent and fair working conditions.

When we look at the minimum wage and workplace safety rules, even for people who are not unionized, we owe it to the union movement for bringing about those rights. I always feel quite horrified when those things are kind of thrown out the window and this sort of emotional, dramatic, very partisan, politically motivated response comes from the government.

Yes, the federal government has enormous power. At the drop of a hat it can intervene and decide whatever it wants to do. That is what we saw in the back to work legislation with postal workers and on previous occasions with Air Canada.

The process by which the government does this in our Parliament is also something that is very abhorrent. We are debating this motion today because the government wants to ram through the legislation by the early hours tomorrow on Wednesday morning.

I think we really have to question the rationale for doing that. These folks are not on strike yet.

I know that our labour critic, the member for Acadie—Bathurst, has been calling on the minister to participate in a proactive, positive way and to facilitate and use her power and good offices to actually bring about a proper negotiation and bring in mediators and facilitators if necessary.

The motion that we are debating today, Motion No. 10, which is several paragraphs long, from (a) through (j), is in effect all about censoring Parliament itself and our process of how we deal with these issues. There is a double offence here. I guess we could say that it adds insult to injury. Not only are the folks involved in the dispute, the workers, having their rights violated but I would also argue that our job as parliamentarians is also being trampled on, the job that we are here to do in the public interest for our constituents and for upholding due process and proper rights. Again, we have seen this time and time again from the current federal government.

I feel that on this issue we will not have huge public support because people abide by the line, “Let's just lay it down and do this in a unilateral way”. However, I really want to urge Canadians to think about the values that underlie this process of collective bargaining. Again, for anyone who has been in a union and has understood that process, they know how important it is and that when people make a decision to go on strike it is something they sometimes really agonize over.

The third point I want to make is to really question what is going on.

I am not a member of the union. I am not with the employer, obviously. I am someone who uses Air Canada's services a lot, like most of us here in this House. Yes, it is a very important public service to have the airline flying across the country. However, it does strike me that when we look at the history of labour relations with this corporation, Air Canada, and the fact that so frequently they have come to this point, I think it must surely raise questions.

Again, I am not someone who is intimately familiar with the situation and knows all the details of what is going on. However, to me, it sends up a red flag. When workers get to this point of being so desperate and feeling like that is all they have left, then surely it must raise the whole question of the labour relations climate at Air Canada and what has happened, not just year after year but decade after decade. We are talking about long-term employees, some of whom came from the old Canadian Pacific Air Lines. I remember those folks who then became part of Air Canada. These are long-standing employees. Whether they are the machinists, the ground agents, the flight attendants, or the pilots, these are people who have a history and a commitment to the work they do. Therefore, when we see a pattern emerging of people feeling like their backs are to the wall, then I think it raises questions and leads me to my next point, that being, what is the role of the Minister of Labour?

We have a minister in the current government who is responsible for labour. The very thing she is doing here, with the backing of her government, is in effect removing any iota of motivation on the employer's part to negotiate in good faith. If the employer can just run off to the government because it happens to be under federal jurisdiction, or in the case of British Columbia, the teachers under the provincial government, and say, “You know what? We can just come down with legislation”, then what motivation is there to negotiate? That is really the sad part of this whole story that is unfolding here today and tonight as we go to vote on the bill. We are undermining a very important process in this country of collective bargaining.

I am proud to stand with my colleagues to say, “We say no”. It is not right on principle. It is not right on pragmatic grounds and we will do everything we can to make sure this legislation does not go through.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the member's comments. Frankly, I think all of us have concerns for the workers at Air Canada. We have concerns for Air Canada as a company as well.

We cannot forget that it was not quite three years ago that we came in with a loan of last resort for Air Canada, which saved that airline at the time. No one else would lend it the money at the time. We are pleased that Air Canada has been able to pay that money and transition to some stability, notwithstanding the most recent loss it sustained in the fourth quarter.

When we talk about the economy, I think it is often lost on people that the economy is really people, not numbers. During this week and next week and during the month of March, we will have an awful lot of people, families in fact, travelling around the world. They have invested money; they have spent a lot of money. Some of them are in those locations now and they need to know that they can get on an airplane.

What the NDP is suggesting is that these families, who may be all over the world, should have no certainty as to whether or not they can get home. Does this member think that is responsible?

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member to think about what he is actually saying, because when he says that people have tickets and need to know they can get on a plane, the result of that approach is basically that the union has no right to do anything. At the end of the day, if our highest order or consideration is someone's ability to get on a plane, well then there is no point in having that process. I think we have to understand that.

Of course I want people to be able to get on a plane at the time they booked and all the rest of it, but unless we are willing to abide by the due process that has been laid out and recognize that these folks have not yet gone on strike, then I think we are violating a very fundamental principle. Even if they have gone on strike, they still have that right

I wish the member would get that. I think maybe the members opposite do, but they obviously do not want to acknowledge it.

It makes me very worried about the future of this country and what it will turn into when that kind of attitude is adopted.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed the member's remarks. She talked a lot about the process of collective bargaining and how important that is. I would agree that many of the benefits and rights and wages that all working people have, union and non-union, are really a result of the fair and open collective bargaining process that is allowed to work. That has been prevented in this case.

I have to say the following, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs was just up. This is a government that does not care about process. The parliamentary secretary's answers every day in this House on the election process, through the cover-up that he is instituting, just show the disdain of the members opposite for the election process.

The parliamentary secretary knows there is only one party charged with a search warrant, and that is the Conservative Party. He knows that as a result of the in and out scandal, the Conservative Party just paid a $230,000 fine because it was caught in election fraud.

On this particular issue, the actions of the Minister of Labour are showing disdain for the collective bargaining process as well, so the government does not care about process. Would the member agree?

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Oh yes, Mr. Speaker, I do agree.

I am thinking of a conversation I once had with Bill Blaikie, a long-time member of Parliament and parliamentarian of the year. I remember him telling me that over the decades that he had been here, if anyone sat down and looked at all of the rules that have been changed just in this place in terms of parliamentary democracy, it would be quite shocking. It is an incremental erosion of even parliamentary democracy.

That has happened and is happening more and more with the government with its gag orders and closure. It is ramming through legislation. When we couple that on the inside with what is happening to workers on the outside, as I say, it makes me very concerned about what is happening to some fundamental values of fairness and justice in Canada.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a fundamental cornerstone of any western democracy to have a free and active trade union movement that recognizes and enshrines the right to organize; the right to free collective bargaining; and in the event of an impasse in the process of free collective bargaining, the right to withhold services as an economic lever to command a fair living wage in the labour free marketplace that we recognize and respect.

There is something about this piece of legislation that is being rammed through in one day, without hearing witnesses at committee, with only a few hours of debate, that is so corrosive to everything we stand for, to every right and freedom by which we define ourselves as Canadians. This is the kind of corrosive erosion of those fundamental rights and freedoms that we on this side of the House are dedicated and committed to opposing with every possible tool we have.

What is the definition of the contempt of Parliament? It is enshrined in this document right here, as the Conservatives try to undermine the collective rights of people to free collective bargaining with a piece of legislation that in the same process offends the sensibilities of any person with a democratic fibre in their body, by ramming through this legislation in the dark of night, under the shroud of secrecy, hoping the general public will not catch up to the fact of the sheer brute force and ignorance associated with this piece of legislation. It is the very epitome of contempt.

Where I come from we have an expression that fair wages benefit the whole community. The Conservatives talk about trying to protect the economy by undermining these workers' rights to try to achieve a fair wage from their employer. What about the economy when the whole working class is driven down to wages that cannot sustain their families? That is what happened in the United States. The American dream has been lost because the neo-conservative right wingers in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s smashed the trade union movement.

It was the trade union movement in the United States that created its greatest asset, a consuming middle class, families that had money in their pockets that they could buy things with and provide a decent standard of living. When the Reaganomics of the right wing neo-conservatives drove the unionized workforce down from 30% to 6%, with that went jobs that paid a family a living wage. Now everyone is scrambling at $8 and $9 an hour in these crappy jobs, with no pensions and no benefits. Is that the vision the Conservatives want for Canada, to follow the Americans to a place where there are no decent paying jobs?

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

I apologize to interrupt the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre, but it being 5:30, the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The hon. member will have seven minutes when the House returns to this matter.

The House resumed from February 6, consideration of the motion that Bill C-377, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise to address Bill C-377 on behalf of the Liberal Party and put on record some concerns around the bill. It is apropos that the bill has come forward today, as the Conservative government is bringing forward back to work legislation. Most Canadians will see this as just another brick on the load, another attempt to handcuff organized labour in this country. I see that in this piece of legislation.

The Liberal Party of Canada understands the importance and is supportive of measures that lend themselves to openness, transparency and accountability. We can look at the other type of organization in this country that is governed under a set of rules similar to that being put forward in this piece of legislation: charities. Charities are asked to post their financial statements for public view. We know it was a Liberal government that brought that forward in 1977. The legislation has served fairly well. But when we compare the provisions around charities in comparison to what would be asked now of organized labour, the provisions in this bill go far beyond what is expected of charities.

One thing that we can agree on in discussion of the bill is that this piece of legislation would be truly burdensome on organized labour and unions. It begs a great number of questions. If the intent of my colleague who put this forward is to try to ensure accountability and transparency in organizations that receive a tax benefit through the Income Tax Act, a question has to be asked. Why in drafting the bill did he not include professional organizations? Between organized unions and professional organizations, there is about $800 million in tax benefits. Professional organizations actually garner a greater share of that $800 million than do unions. If we are looking for accountability, we should ask for accountability for all those groups that benefit under section 149 of the Income Tax Act. The tax exemption is allotted for charities, professional organizations and unions.

We know that the burden would be placed on accounting for every expenditure over $5,000 not just on the current accounts, but on trust accounts of unions and union locals. We would end up with pensioners making small amounts of money and drawing small pensions from those trust funds. They would have to post the amounts being drawn from the trusts, creating concerns around privacy.

For anyone who does business with a union, those accounts would be posted. The small contractor who does maintenance and janitorial work at the local union hall would have to post what he draws from the union for services rendered. The next time they called for janitorial services, his competition would see what he is making. It will not be fair.

A number of concerns arise. The most egregious, and this brings us back to the discussion and debate we are having today on the back to work legislation, is how it would tip the field in disfavour of organized labour by making it necessary to bare all accounts.

If a company and a union local are in the midst of contract negotiations which are coming to a head, there is potential for a strike. The union then looks at what fiscal shape it is in. It has full access to the books and understands how long it could sustain any kind of a strike benefit. It goes forward to find a fair resolve through the open and fair bargaining process. However, knowing what is in the books and accounts of that union would be of particular benefit to the company. We do not believe that we can support any legislation that contains a measure which would give an unfair advantage to one group over another.

A number of different aspects of the bill are of concern. Certainly, we fully support the provisions with respect to openness and accountability.

There was an accountability bill brought forward in the last Parliament by our former colleague Albina Guarnieri. There were a number of issues surrounding the amount of salaries of some heads of charities at the time. The bill required that any salaries over $100,000 being drawn from a charity had to be posted and made public. Of course that bill died on the order paper with the coming of the last election.

Professional associations are much like unions. Members of associations receive a similar tax exemption to members of unions. We know that it is a requirement in most professional organizations. If people want to practice in a particular profession, then they have to become a member of that professional organization. There is a mandatory aspect to it. Therefore, it escapes me why professional organizations have not been included in the drafting of the bill to make it fair for all parties.

In closing, we support accountability and transparency. Over the years we have shown that we believe in those aspects. Many of the provisions for organized labour and charities are now in place. Had the member come forward with a bill that did not focus only on organized labour, but looked at professional organizations and professional associations as well and was even across the board, then we would be supportive of it. However, the way the bill is written now, we will not be able to stand and support it when the time comes to vote.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Claude Patry NDP Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-377. I myself am a former union president and vice-president. The way a union works is that members are consulted at the general meeting once a year. In my union, we managed the collective agreement and prescription drug insurance for blue-collar and white-collar workers.

Can we imagine the impact this bill will have when it is enacted? Unions are being asked to disclose their labour relations activities, to report what they do and how they finance their activities, to disclose their political activities, their collective bargaining activities, and information about conventions, education and training activities, legal activities and recruiting activities. Essentially, unions are being asked to drop their pants in front of everybody. They have to show their figures.

How can unions develop a strategy? How can they bargain with an employer when the employer knows everything about their figures, like the strike fund, the operating fund and the staff? This is unacceptable.

When I was president of a union in Arvida, we had prescription drug insurance for blue-collar and white-collar workers. There is strategy involved in relation to the drugs and the administrative costs. There are a lot of companies that would have liked to have access to that information about prescription drugs. This bill makes no sense because it is truly an attack on unions.

Why have the Conservatives not tried to require the same of companies? Let them do it for the banks and the multinationals. Let them do it for small businesses. That way there will be a level playing field for bargaining. They are not doing it because the companies will rise up and say that these are their strategies and their prices, there are competition issues, and they cannot agree to that. That is also the case for unions. They are the only organizations that working people have for organizing and defending themselves against employers and against multinational companies.

In Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, we currently have a lockout at Rio Tinto Alcan; the employees have been locked out since December 31. These people would like us to drop our pants and put all our files on the table. The money invested in health and safety involves cases that are going to be argued. They are legal files. The member is asking that this be put on a website. That makes no sense. This bill makes no sense.

Honestly, I have been here since May 2 and all I have seen on the other side of the House is contempt for unions. There was Canada Post and Air Canada. We are talking about Air Canada again today. People are still being bullied. Whose interests will this bill serve? It will not serve the interests of unions and working people. It will serve the interests of the multinational companies and corporations, and not the unions that stand up for working people.

Currently, the unions make their figures public annually following their general meetings. I was a union president and that is what I did every year for six years. There were figures for the purchase of office equipment and employees’ wages. Everything was included. I do not see why it would be placed on a website. Recruitment is very important and strategic, so why should the unions have to include this information in documents that everyone has access to?

If the Conservatives want to be transparent, as they say they do, then they should also be transparent with their employers.

Transparency is important. How can a union negotiate if the employer knows all about its strike fund and is aware of how much was spent on legal fees, and on the collective agreement? Bargaining takes place for collective agreements that last three or four years. It is customary in negotiations to attempt to improve the provisions of a collective agreement.

Bill C-377 forces the unions to show their hand. In my opinion, it is like asking the unions to drop their pants in front of everybody. That is what it amounts to, in union jargon.

I would also like to talk about the cost of implementing this initiative. Bill C-377 will be a bureaucratic monster. We saw this in the case of firearms. We were told that everything would be electronic and run smoothly. The firearms registry cost Canadians $1 billion. How much will it cost for the implementation and enforcement of this legislation?

This bill amounts to a double standard. It does not make sense. The unions are being asked to drop their pants and show everything, to speak plainly.

The following things are explained to workers at general meetings: what was spent throughout the year, how much the heating, building and insurance policies cost. Why put this information on the website? Union reorganization and recruitment are confidential. If a new union were created and new members sought, all of this information would have to be displayed on a website for all to see. That does not make sense. As a former union president, I cannot tolerate that kind of practice. If the government wants the NDP to vote for this, it should ask the same thing of employers and everyone else.

Earlier we spoke of the cost of the registry. It is going to cost some money. There are 12,000 unions across Canada, which is not easy to manage. How will the small unions with just a hundred or so members and one or two employees handle the extra work, carry out analyses, produce documents and send the required information to the government? If the unions are not up to date, they will pay fines while certain companies enjoy insurance premium and tax holidays. That does not make sense, and we do not agree with it.

Some say that the NDP is always negative, but we want equality and justice for everyone. The government makes cutbacks to programs claiming that they are too expensive, and then creates a new bureaucracy. It takes away public servants from one place and adds them to another. I have not been in politics for very long, and I have trouble understanding that. Someone will have to explain it to me.

As I just said, it is a double standard. With this bill, the workers will once again have to pick up the tab. Once again, the people will have to pay the public servants responsible for all this. It does not make any sense. It is disrespectful to the union. Since I have been a member of Parliament, all I hear is how the NDP is on the side of the unions. The NDP is on the side of logical people, so that no one suffers. We are here to help people. Regardless of what party we belong to, we all do good and bad things, but we have to at least stand up for the interests of Canadians. However, that is not what the government is doing. It is dividing the people. It is telling the little people to do what they are told, to pay up and shut up. That is not what we want in Canada. It is a strange coincidence that today's debate is about Air Canada, the strategy and other things.

What will be done with the information that is disclosed to the public? In summary, it will be costly, unfair and discriminatory. The Conservatives must redo their homework. Such a thing cannot be asked of small, medium or large unions. Some unions cannot even meet the requirements because they have only one or two employees.

In a large union, such as the one for which I worked, there are employees or an accountant who can do that work. We must think about all the bureaucracy and the logistics that will result from this bill. I do not understand how the House can say that cuts must be made. The government is purchasing airplanes and building megaprisons. It is laying off Service Canada employees and cutting services, but adding others to monitor the unions. What is this called? I will let the hon. members guess.

It is unacceptable that this is being done to workers. Unions are the only way that workers can organize and stand up for themselves.

We will vote against this bill because it does not make any sense. If the government wants us to vote in favour of this bill, it must pull up its socks and ensure that it applies to small and medium businesses, multinational corporations and banks. Only then we will approve this bill, not before.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-377, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations).

The bill before us seeks to require trade unions to publicly disclose their financial statements. The reporting requirements contemplated by the bill are completely unnecessary, but the government knows that.

In Canada's trade union movement, financial statements are audited and reported to elected boards of directors, to all union locals, and to delegates at conventions. Annual audited statements must be filed with both provincial and federal labour boards. The Canada Labour Code requires that financial statements be available to members. Where those statements are not routinely provided to all members, individual union members can request them from their locals and directly from labour boards. The process is open, fair, democratic and accountable.

What is really being advanced by this bill is a dangerous and unprecedented move to advance the government's agenda of undermining the balance of labour relations in Canada by tipping the scales overwhelmingly in favour of employers.

Trade unions are profoundly democratic institutions. The leadership is elected by the membership and serves at the pleasure of those members. The relationship between a union's leadership and its members is one of transparency and accountability. A union is accountable to its members, just as comparable not-for-profit and tax-exempt entities, like think tanks, professional associations and trade boards are accountable to their members.

With this legislation the government is once again breaching the bounds of fundamental fairness by demanding that trade unions release their financial information to the public. Importantly, it is only trade unions that would be required to do so. Entities such as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the law society, and the Fraser Institute, all of which enjoy the same kind of tax-exempt status as unions, are curiously not mentioned in the bill. When the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale first introduced this legislation as Bill C-317 in the last Parliament, he was asked why it targeted unions alone, why the same provisions would not apply to other not-for-profit agencies or societies. He was unable to answer that very basic question.

Clearly the labour movement is being singled out for attack in this legislation. Equally clear, the decision to uniquely target labour is ideological, unbalanced and vindictive.

Why are we here today debating a bill which on the surface appears to remedy a wholly invented problem?

We are here to debate legislation that would have the effect of hog-tying unions as they conduct their daily business of representing and advocating for working women and men. With this bill the employer sitting across the negotiating table would have ready access to all the financial information it might need to wage a war of attrition designed to bankrupt a union.

With this legislation the employer would know exactly what resources the union has and how far those resources will stretch. The employer would be handed a report that tells it exactly how much the union can spend on a grievance, whether the union can afford an organizing drive, and precisely how much is in the strike fund. It is absolutely outrageous.

Would the government contemplate any other negotiation between two parties where one side was legislatively required to hand over financial information that provided the other side with a spectacular competitive advantage?

This is legislation that corrupts the very idea of fairness and balance in negotiations between parties and undermines the fundamental right of free collective bargaining.

In grasping this we can now see the real purpose of this legislation. It is not intended to improve transparency or accountability. It is intended to deliver to the government's corporate friends a cudgel with which to hobble Canadian unions as they seek to represent their members.

We have seen the government's determination to sabotage free collective bargaining before, and this bill represents one more breach of common sense and responsible management. Never mind that labour rights are ostensibly protected by international conventions. Never mind that the balance of labour relations in this country has been relatively stable for decades. Never mind that organized labour in Canada represents more than three million men and women from coast to coast to coast. In every major dispute since they came to power, the Conservatives have responded with heavy-handed tactics expressly designed to hand the employer a win: disingenuous referrals to the labour board; the imposition of wage settlements that are lower than the employer's offer; draconian back to work legislation announced before labour disruptions have even begun.

Employers in this country now know beyond a doubt that there is no need to engage in free and fair collective bargaining, because the moment workers contemplate exercising their rights, the government will side with the employer and legislate those rights away. To the simple-minded government this must seem terribly convenient. In fact, it is a dangerous undermining of an always fragile balance in labour relations that will further destabilize an already flagging economy.

We have seen that the government's obdurate evidence-free ideological determination to punish those it sees as its political enemies trumps good management and fairness every time. Like a spoiled child, the government's reactionary knee-jerk propensity to attack any individual or organization that has the temerity to disagree with its world view knows no limits. We have seem it lash out at civil servants, scientists, NGOs, even churches, and now Canada's labour movement is again in the crosshairs.

If the government were really interested in accountability and transparency, it would first take a long hard look inward. Its own record is abysmal, from withholding Afghan detainee documents to the member for Parry Sound—Muskoka's multi-million dollar pork-barrel extravaganza, from an inability to tell Canadians how much the omnibus crime legislation will cost taxpayers to ministers and senior officials jetting about on Challengers, from failed multi-billion dollar sole-sourced F-35 purchases to electoral fraud. The Conservative government's call for accountability is sanctimonious nonsense. Its house is made of glass.

If the government has any real interest in accountability and serving the voters who sent us here to represent their interests in sound fiscal management, in making the lives of hard-working Canadians just a little bit easier, there is a long list of initiatives for workers to which it could and should turn its attention and resources.

Unemployment and underemployment for example are growing problems which the government continues to ignore. The real unemployment rate is 11%. Almost two million Canadians are out of work. Student unemployment last summer was a staggering 17%.

Conservative Party talking points aside, the truth is that the government has no job creation plan. That is why the NDP has called on the government to take positive steps to kickstart job creation.

The government should abandon its disastrous corporate tax spending policy and instead use that $3 billion to $4 billion a year for job creation measures that work. We should be providing a new higher tax credit for every new employee who stays on the payroll for a year. We have called on the government to cut small business income tax by two percentage points to encourage local job creation and investment, and to invest in infrastructure projects to address the infrastructure deficit, create jobs and boost competitiveness and living standards.

New Democrats want to invest in green infrastructure and renewable energy to facilitate the transition to a low-carbon economy and to invest in skills training for workers in transition and leading-edge industries. Instead, the government, bereft of a job strategy, has given away billions in subsidies and tax breaks to corporations without any condition that they create or even protect jobs for Canadians. When the victims of these failed Conservative policies attempt to access the employment insurance system, one in three of them are turned away.

That is why a previous Parliament voted to support my motion to expand and enhance EI benefits. That motion called for the elimination of the two-week waiting period for benefits, a reduction in standardization of the hours of qualification, and an increase in weekly benefits. Our caucus has tabled specific proposals in this Parliament to promote job creation, and to make EI the effective and responsive safety net Canadian workers have paid for.

Canadian families want action on jobs. When they become the innocent victims of the economic downturn, they deserve the support of their government. What do they get from the government instead? A petulant and gratuitous shot at Canadian workers that further weakens their collective position.

This legislation is as unnecessary as it is irresponsible. It is nothing but a partisan assault on the men and women who go to work every day to provide for their families and the unions who represent them.

I call on all members in the House to stand up for working families and vote to defeat this ill-conceived bill.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, we have heard a couple of great speeches from my colleagues. I too am going to lend a few words to debate on this bill.

I have seen a lot of nonsense from the government, but I cannot believe why we are dealing with Bill C-377. It targets one group in our society and singles it out for unfair, onerous, burdensome treatment with no apparent reason other to make mischief, attack unions and drive them out of our communities. I do not understand.

I do not know where the sponsor of this bill comes from or if he remembers the history of his community, but I want to ask him and other members opposite to think about the freedoms that we cherish in our community and our country and to consider for a moment their history. I want to ask him as well to consider the role that working people have played in the establishment of those freedoms and of those important programs, and the work they have done to build our roads and public buildings and to ensure that we have goods and services in order to have a high standard of living. Health care, health and safety laws, workers compensation, unemployment insurance, pensions and all of the other things that have made our communities as strong as they are today have resulted from the struggles of working people and their organizations, trade unions. They do not deserve this kind of attack.

It has been said by my colleagues that this bill does not deal with other like organizations that are similar in structure, such as professional associations or law societies. It does not touch the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, for example. It does not deal with other organizations in the same way that it attempts to single out trade unions.

As has been stated by my colleagues, I have often said that trade unions are one of the most democratic organizations we have in society. The revenues and resources that unions have to deal with are as a result of dues and contributions by members, from the pay they receive for doing their work. How that money is spent is determined by those very same workers.

If members have any question about how these unions deal and make those decisions and hold themselves accountable, I would like to take them out to a general membership meeting. I would like them to come to any one of the annual conventions held by the trade unions in this country and see the scrutiny that the financial statements of those unions receive from their members. Members would recognize that there is far more scrutiny and transparency regarding the financial statements of trade unions than there is in corporations in this country.

We have never had any explanation from the government opposite for what has happened to the tens of billions of dollars that profitable corporations have received from Canadian taxpayers. Supposedly it was meant to create jobs, but since January, for example, when these corporations recognized an additional $3 billion, what we have seen in this country is a further deterioration in the number of jobs.

My point is that when it comes to accountability, trade unions are one of the most accountable organizations that we have in our society.

We also hear members opposite talk about the “big union bosses” as though they are a big entity and similar to one of the big banks that make tens of billions of dollars in profit every year.

Let me tell members that the largest union in this country is the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which has over 600,000 members. However, that union is made up of nearly 3,000 small locals. Those locals may consist of two people, five people, ten people. There may be upwards of 10,000 in some of them, but the majority of them are tens or hundreds of members.

Every single month, one of those union locals holds a general membership meeting. Whoever the fortunate or unfortunate person is, depending upon one's perspective, who has taken the secretary-treasurer role has to stand in front of the members and account for how those dues are being spent.

Let me tell members that there is not a treasurer I know of in a trade union who gets off lucky. They have to be able to account for every single penny, because working women and men know what it is like to be frugal, they know what it is like to be accountable, and they want to know how their money is being spent.

In fact, that is what drives me and that is what drives many members on this side: the concerns that working women and men in this country have about how the government is spending its resources.

Why would we not expect the government to be attacking unions through a bill like this? It attacks working people. We see now that we are dealing with back to work legislation for a dispute that has not even started. We have seen it with the postal workers and we have seen it with Air Canada ealier. We have seen that whenever the government has had an opportunity to put the boots to working people, it has taken that opportunity.

Senior citizens, whether they are seniors now or whether they will be seniors in the future, are going to be asked to shoulder a greater burden by having the age of eligibility for OAS extended from 65 to 67 years old. That is going to be a burden for low-income senior citizens. That is an attack by the current government on seniors.

It is the same with veterans. We talked in this House about how the government is attacking veterans and slashing the budget of Veterans Affairs.

Ninety per cent of the budget of Veterans Affairs goes to programs and services; the government is going to cut upwards of 10% out of that budget, and it says that it is not going to affect services to veterans and their families and to RCMP members, people who have sacrificed themselves and continue to sacrifice themselves for this country.

It is the same with voters. The government is attacking voters. We see every day a new revelation of what the Conservative government has done in terms of trying to suppress the rights of Canadians to vote for the people they want to vote for. That is another group that has been under attack.

The military post living differential is another example. The post living differential has been brought up to me by people in my constituency, who have said that the government is intending to cut the living allowance that compensates military families that have to move to different parts of the country or to other countries. It is going to cut it in half. That is another group that the government has its sights on.

Let me tell members that Canadians are getting sick and tired of the government picking out a group of people and deciding that it is next. They are wondering where the government is going to stop.

Our job in this House, whether in debating Bill C-377 or in dealing with the government's attack on Canadians' privacy through Bill C-11, will be to stand every single day and use every breath to fight the government, stand with Canadian families and ensure that the government backs off.

Then, in 2015, that is it. The Conservatives are gone.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to follow my colleague from Nova Scotia, my fellow NDP caucus colleague, to express our points of view about this appalling piece of legislation, Bill C-377.

Usually when a bill is private member's business, other members of Parliament are less likely to attack it, because they understand it is the single hobby horse of a single MP who has a right to put forward his or her point of view. In this case, there is strong reason to believe that is a planned, orchestrated plant of this offensive, odious piece of legislation, using the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale as a vehicle for the government to express its views of contempt and prejudice against the labour movement that has given us so much throughout the history of this country.

My first observation is it is too bad this document is not written on softer paper, because then we could put it in the outhouse next to the Eaton's catalogue and use it as it more properly deserves to be used.

This is a gutless piece of legislation put forward by a cowardly member. If the Conservatives are so serious about attacking labour on the left, let them put forward a piece of legislation that is a government piece of legislation and put this—

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order. The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development is rising on a point of order.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would respectfully ask my colleague and fellow parliamentarian to exercise some restraint, notwithstanding our enthusiasm for the issue, and to specifically avoid calling members “cowardly” members. That is out of line and not consistent with the spirit and theme of the rules as they are laid out. It was very clear what he said.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I thank the hon. parliamentary secretary for his intervention.

Members will take note of Standing Order 18, which refers to unparliamentary language and, in particular, the way in which it is imputed in the House. I would say that in this particular case the reference to a specific hon. member in that way would certainly be in the category of disrespectful. I would encourage the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre to consider withdrawing that remark and to perhaps stay away from that particular narrative.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I have almost made it through the whole shift and I have not apologized to anyone yet today, so I would rather not start now. However, I will suggest that it is perhaps this piece of legislation that I find gutless and cowardly and not the member who put it forward.

I am offended by this piece of legislation, personally. I used to be the head of the carpenters union in my home province of Manitoba, and the carpenters union in my industry is the only friend a worker has. The only friend a carpenter has is the union that is looking after his fair wages, his pension plan, his health and safety, his apprenticeship and his training. I started my carpenter apprenticeship indentured to the carpenters union because I could not find a private employer who would sign my apprenticeship documents, and that was the vehicle by which I got my post-secondary education, which is my journeyman carpenter's papers.

I started my career in the asbestos mines, as a labourer. I was 17 years old. Believe me, there was no friend in that mine except for the union too, because we were the ones going to the company and saying “Isn't it true that asbestos is bad for you?” They said, “No, get back to work; this is Canadian asbestos; this is benign asbestos; this asbestos won't kill you”. The only friend a working person has, frankly, is the union.

Let me take this opportunity to use this completely meritless piece of legislation to celebrate some of the contributions the labour movement has in fact made and explain why this war on labour on the left that the neo-conservative right wing zealots and reactionaries are so intent on pursuing is in fact folly economically. There is no business case for smashing the labour movement.

I challenge members to look south to the United States. The United States' greatest strength and greatest asset was a consuming middle class that received fair wages that could feed and sustain a family, which led to consumerism and led to the greatest economic powerhouse the world has ever known. Somehow, in their wisdom, the neo-conservatives during Reaganomics decided they should smash the labour movement. By cowardly, gutless legislation like this, they systematically, by legislation, dropped the unionization rate in the United States from 33% down to 6%. With that went fair wages. With that went the right to organize, the right to free collective bargaining, pension plans and health and welfare benefits. All these things are just a pipe dream now. The American dream is over. If we were to talk to working people in the United States, those lucky enough to have a job, we would find they are earning $8 or $9 an hour with no benefits. In whose best interest is that?

In the short time I have, let me give one illustration of how far we have come and how far we have fallen. This year will be the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire. In New York City, in 1912, 700 women were working in a sweatshop in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory. A fire started and hundreds of women were killed. That was the impetus of the workplace safety and health movement that led to the cleaning up of workplaces all across the United States, and by extension, all across North America. It was the birth of the trade union movement in the garment industry.

I had 43 garment manufacturers in my riding. I know full well the contribution that UNITE and those unions have made to the safety of those workers. That was a hundred years ago. Then we got cleaned up. We had health and safety provisions, clean workplaces and fewer accidents. Then Reaganomics came along and smashed the labour movement.

In 1995, in Durham, North Carolina, there was a chicken processing plant, non-union of course, with mostly black women working in there. The assembly line would go so fast that, with the number of cuts they made per minute, often they would not even know they had cut themselves until they saw the blood on the floor. A fire started. They had locked the doors from the outside because the women were taking home giblets and pieces of neck and wing tips to make soup with, to supplement the crappy minimum wage they were getting. What happened? They had bolted the door shut from the outside so the women could not steal the goddamn byproducts of the chickens. And what happens? Another fire—

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order, please.

The hon. member for Winnipeg Centre will know that particular coarse language is also in the category of unparliamentary. I would insist he not make use of profanity and encourage the hon. member to consider withdrawing the remark, if he could.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I do withdraw the remark. In my enthusiasm I used profane language, but I will finish the story.

This is coming full circle. The unions, through free collective bargaining and the right to withhold their services in the event of an impasse, drove up the average middle class wage in the United States to where it was a living wage, a consuming wage, a wage one could raise a family on. People had workplaces that were safe and healthy workplaces, because they had enforcement of health and safety provisions, because they had a union workplace safety and health committee on that work site. Coming from the construction industry, I know that every building built in the old days was a tombstone because men died on those jobs. That does not happen anymore because we made those workplaces safe.

As the government smashes the labour movement, as clearly it has given the indication it intends to do, declare war on labour on the left, not only will workers' wages diminish. How is that good for the economy? Also, workplace safety and health provisions will diminish. People will be dying in the workplace again just like in 1912 in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory.

Do not groan at me from over there, because I can tell members it is a fact that conditions will diminish if we do not have a strong and healthy trade union movement to protect the gains we have made in the last hundred years. Bill C-377 should go on the trash heap of history. It is an insult to working people in this country.

I want to recognize and pay tribute to the push-back of the building trades unions, especially my own union, the carpenters union, which is doing a job trying to lobby members of Parliament and trying to point out the folly in smashing the only thing that has elevated the standards of living wages and working conditions in this country. That is a free, vibrant and healthy trade union movement.

This is a cornerstone of any western democracy, the free and healthy trade union movement, the right to organize, the right to free collective bargaining and the right to withhold one's services in the event of an impasse. It is a cornerstone we are proud of. It is one of the very things by which we define ourselves as a free and open democracy. This piece of legislation has no place in a western democracy that prides itself on the rights of ordinary people and its citizens. It makes one wonder whose side the Conservatives are on.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before giving the floor to the hon. member for Pontiac, I must inform him that I will have to interrupt him at 6:25 p.m., when the hon. member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale will have his right of reply.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the hon. member who spoke before me. He has a lot of passion for workers and the labour movement in this country, and has demonstrated a thorough understanding of the situation.

On this side of the House, we are wondering why unions are being targeted rather than all the organizations that collect dues. If we consider this motion in the context of the bill that we will be debating very soon, it seems to be an ideological attack by the government against the labour movement in this country, a movement that has achieved significant social gains.

When my great-grandfather came to Canada to work as a stonemason, the conditions were awful. Labour movements have made it possible to live in a society with healthy working environments and with benefits that enable us to raise children, to age with dignity and to have a pension.

This bill will also make privileged information available to businesses and to the government, which will give them unfair competitive and political advantages. However, when we talk about members of labour organizations, we are not talking about a small group of Canadians. There are 4.3 million Canadians who are either union members or have family members in a union. Those people will be automatically placed at a disadvantage compared to the government and business. The government and business will actually have access to all the information about the workers whereas the workers will not have access to any of that information. So they will be at a disadvantage in a bargaining situation.

The NDP is clearly in favour of transparency as long as it applies fairly to all organizations concerned and as long as it causes no harm. While recognizing that the hon. member probably has noble reasons for promoting transparency, this bill is going to violate the right to freedom of association in this country, as well as the rights to privacy and freedom of expression.

We estimate that this bill will create about 17.5 million hours of paperwork. About 25,000 workers' organizations that will have to comply with these requirements will each need about 700 hours of work annually to do so. That is a major burden, both for the government and for those workers. It will be an obstacle to the vitality of organizations that stand up for the rights of our fellow citizens. We must remember that it is these democratic organizations that stand up for the rights of our fellow citizens. In any case, how are Canadians going to be able to find their way through these millions of pieces of data? Of what use are the data? Their use will be when they are sent to the employers and used against the workers.

Bill C-377 takes its place in the series of Conservative attacks on workers, such as the strike at Canada Post or the bargaining at Air Canada. Instead of laying into hard-working Canadians, the Conservatives should be addressing the real problems Canadians face, like unemployment, poverty and our retirement pensions.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I now invite the hon. member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale for his right of reply. The hon. member has five minutes.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert Conservative South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to briefly summarize the second reading debate on my Bill C-377, which would require public financial disclosure of labour organizations.

First let me express my appreciation to my colleagues on both sides of the House for their comments and their interest in this subject. I commit to you, Mr. Speaker, and this place that I will not say anything that would force me to apologize because of my remarks.

My purpose in introducing the legislation is to create financial transparency in a group of institutions that are receiving substantial public benefits. All members here and the general public know the value in financial transparency for public institutions and for institutions that receive public benefits. That is why, for example, financial transparency for charities, which has existed for over 35 years now, is fully accepted by charities themselves, as well as the public.

Some members across the way have raised the point that some provinces have labour codes that require limited financial disclosure to union members only. This, however, is an irrelevant point that has nothing to do with this bill.

The purpose of the bill is not about requiring disclosure to union members. Rather its purpose is requiring disclosure to the general public because the public is providing a financial benefit through the tax system. The public has a right to know how the benefit they provide to labour organizations is being used.

Some MPs and several leaders and labour organizations have also raised the issue of the cost of compliance with the legislation. Again, I believe the cost to labour organizations of compliance with Bill C-377 to be quite minimal in this age of electronic bookkeeping.

Clearly, labour organizations already track their finances internally and translating this data into a format which can be filed with the Canada Revenue Agency is largely a question of technology and software. Compiling and filing a single unaudited information return once a year is not going to unduly encumber any labour organization. Any actual cost to the labour organization will be far outweighed by the benefits of transparency.

The NDP House leader stood in the House during the first hour of debate and made some wild claims that the bill was about to strip Canadians of their charter rights. He actually called the bill “an attack on the labour movement.”

Contrary to the NDP House leader's wild claims, transparency for unions is no more an attack on unions than transparency for charities is an attack on charities. We know, with 35 years experience of the matter, that financial transparency for charities has been a positive development and not an attack.

The truth is the vast majority of Canadians, a full 83%, as expressed in a recent Nanos poll, support financial transparency for labour organizations. I know those numbers are even higher in Quebec. As for the labour movement, according to the same poll, 86% of Canadians who identified themselves as unionized employees supported financial transparency. Clearly, the broad labour movement does not regard the bill as an attack on themselves. It is quite opposite in fact.

The NDP member for Acadie—Bathurst also complained during the debate that it did not apply to other types of organizations. We have heard that here as well. In fact, in ratcheting up the rhetoric, he suggested that transparency for a wide range of organizations was a matter of justice.

When drafting my bill, I chose to focus on addressing public financial disclosure by labour organizations, because they were unique institutions with a specific purpose and function, distinct from the other types of institutions that he mentioned. However, there is nothing in Bill C-377 that would preclude another member from seeking financial disclosure by other types of organizations that receive a public benefit. Some members, even this afternoon, mentioned the CFIB and I note that as a non-profit it does not receive a public benefit, unlike charities and the labour movement.

Despite the fact that a handful of union leaders and NDP MPs have suggested otherwise, this is very much a pro-union bill. The bottom line in all of this is that public financial disclosure will build public confidence that the public benefits that labour organizations are being provided are being used efficiently and effectively.

I appreciate the opportunity to share my input and I seek the support of all my colleagues at the second reading of the bill so that it can go to committee for further review.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

It being 6:30 p.m., the time provided for debate has expired.

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative