Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-52 today. The railway, or shipping by rail, is very important in my riding. As I often say in my speeches in this House, the river divides my riding in two, but the railway also does the same thing. This is not just a legacy; it is also a very important economic asset for us.
To begin, I would like to say a little about my experience since 2011 when I was elected, and even before that time, from what I hear from my constituents and other elected representatives in the region, in particular the mayors, concerning relations with CN and CP. This is very important in connection with the subject we are addressing today.
We need to look at the role these companies are called on to play in our communities and see what a key role the railway has played in the history of Quebec and of Canada. In any history course, even at the university level, we still talk about the railway as a core element of our country's collective history. When we look at it that way, there is a duty to work with the various stakeholders. Today, we are talking about the stakeholders that ship various products, in the farming sector in particular.
In my riding, I am in an odd situation when it comes to this subject. On the south shore, Montérégie is located right in the middle between Montreal and the more urban part of the south shore, but also in a somewhat more agricultural and rural area. Let us not forget that there are also farmers in my riding. I can think of neighbouring ridings, like Shefford or Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, where there are people in the farming community who use the railway. We can really see how much the railway connects those regions to Montreal, and beyond there to other destinations, including Quebec City, Ottawa, or the other end of the country.
When we consider these facts, we feel we must take action to support our farmers, but we also want to protect the communities living alongside the railways. We therefore need CN to work with us. That is why this bill is important. We are talking about agreements with shippers, but this is also an indication of the need to go beyond that and call on CN to co-operate more on other issues. Those issues all involve the same objective: improving and making better use of the infrastructure we have had for over 100 years now.
Getting back to my previous point, when I was talking about the work I had to do with CN, I have to say that it is not always an easy company to work with, quite frankly. I say that with all due respect because good things have been accomplished. I would not want anyone to think otherwise, and I am definitely ready to work with them. However, the fact that we needed a bill to make CN co-operate on one particular issue shows that the company could do with an attitude adjustment and a little more flexibility given that it has a monopoly or a virtual monopoly on rail services in my region and across Canada.
I have seen this problem on two particular files, including the rail electrification one. This AMT proposal would modernize and improve rail services. It would reduce costs for producers using the services and for public transit users. Yes, it would be expensive in the short term, but in the long term, it would provide economic, environmental and other benefits.
We have had to deal with a lot of problems on this file. CN categorically refused without offering any explanations or agreeing to talk about it. This is another very important aspect of the bill before us today even though it is about a different issue with CN.
As for the other file, I heard a comment on the other side of the House about increasing train traffic. That is interesting, because that is exactly the kind of thing we want to see. That obviously means that the economy is doing well, including the local economy.
However, this increase is combined with the phenomenon of urban sprawl, which we are seeing more and more in Montérégie, particularly on the south shore. People are leaving the Island of Montreal to move to the suburbs, including our region. They are building homes around train stations to be able to use public transportation. II am talking about commuter trains. So these homes are seeing an increase in vibrations.
My riding office in Saint-Basile-le-Grand is in an old train station. It is no longer in use, but, obviously, since it is an old train station, we are close to the tracks and we feel the vibrations. It is not a big deal to us. It does not happen too often when employees work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 6 p.m., for example. However, I think everyone can agree that it can be more difficult for someone who lives close by.
Speaking about the importance of the railway calls to mind some comments made by one of the mayors in my riding. Gilles Plante, the mayor of MacMasterville, told me as well as CN officials that while he did not want to hinder CN’s work or impede rail traffic, he did hope that a happy medium could be found.
Co-operation with CN on this front is necessary, but not always easy to get. We are still waiting for answers to requests made by citizens regarding rail traffic.
There is a reason why I bring this up and relate these stories of issues that I have been focusing on since being elected to represent my riding. As I have said before, the aim of the bill is to compel CN to negotiate agreements with shippers to prevent the company from unfairly benefiting from the monopoly it holds over our producers, in particular farmers.
If I might digress for a moment, I would especially like to congratulate the member for Trinity—Spadina for her work, for the bill she introduced, which made the minister realize that the time had come to act on this issue.
This bill is seen as a step in the right direction. However, hard work is needed to sustain this momentum. I am hearing from the farmers in my region and I know that some colleagues represent ridings where farming is even more prevalent. The message is always the same when the topic of public transportation or the railway system comes up. They acknowledge that this is a very important industry, one that needs to be modernized.
We lag far behind Europe in this area. Of course I am not saying that everything is wrong. I am sure that a government member is prepared to rise and say that everything is going well. I am not saying that things are going badly, but simply because things are not going badly does not mean that things cannot be greatly improved. This is true of the railway system. Things are going very well back home. People benefit from the service, but much more could be done. If improvements were made to the rail infrastructure, the costs in the short term would be great, but in the long term, as I said, users and shippers could enjoy lower prices.
As far as urban sprawl is concerned, as I said earlier, this is a positive phenomenon. It means that people are settling in our region, that the population is increasing, that more families are moving into the area and that our local economy is thriving. These are things that I am very proud of and very pleased to see. Mainly it drives many of the issues I champion in the House and in my work as a member of Parliament.
However, that makes life tough for farmers because municipal elected officials, regional conferences of elected officials, RCMs, members of the National Assembly and so on all wind up facing the same challenges: finding a way to promote urban sprawl and growth back home, but also ensuring that our farmers still have an environment conducive to their production.
There are a lot of local products in the Richelieu valley, where my constituency is located, and they are the pride of our region. Tourisme Montérégie has done a lot of work, and even in the surrounding areas, in Rougemont near Marieville in my riding or elsewhere, local products are of outstanding quality. People attending the Chambly Bières et Saveurs festival in the summer can enjoy beer—it is very good—as well as superior-quality food products. We want to continue producing those products. They are healthful and good for the economy, and they are also good for our heritage, even though that may seem like a cliché. That, in a way, is our physical and environmental heritage.
The work we are doing with CN is extremely important: we are looking for a way to juggle the reality of modernization with that of agricultural tradition, which is very important in my riding. That is why I am very pleased to support this bill at second reading. It is a step in the right direction, as a number of my colleagues and I have said.
However, I believe that the committee work will be very important, and the work to be done over the next few months and years even more so. As I emphasized earlier, we have to prod CN on other issues as well. We have to demand even more from those people and from all stakeholders involved in railway issues, who will show us the way because we find it hard to move CN on these issues.
I would like to go back to the vibrations issue. This is fundamentally important for this bill because, once again, we are talking about shippers. Freight trains are increasingly long and that is very good. However, we wonder, and we have also put the question to CN, how it is possible to reconcile these two realities. My office is located beside the railway, and I also live near it. Sometimes drivers want to cross the tracks, and it is nearly rush hour and along comes a train transporting freight from elsewhere in Canada. Then they realize that the train is nearly 200 cars long. Sometimes people wait a long time at the stoplight. We realize that some work still has to be done to reconcile this urbanization reality with the fact that these trains have to pass through.
I am not saying that this is not important. I am referring to the situation facing my colleague, the mayor of McMasterville. We want to keep this in our municipalities. We do not want to tear up the railway. It is part of our heritage and we know how much it benefits our communities. No one would ever say otherwise. However, I think we need to do some work on it. This bill urges CN to do something for farmers. We could also urge it to do more for Canadians in the regions.
The railway is such an important part of our heritage. I recall a Knights of Columbus dinner that was held in November. One of the members, Gilbert Desrosiers, who is very well known in my riding, received a painting done by a local artist whose name escapes me at the moment unfortunately. It was a picture of what we, back home, call the black bridge. There is a large CN logo on the bridge. It is hard to miss. Whether you are on the Richelieu highway, on the shore or in a boat on the Richelieu River, you can see this railway bridge. It is practically an institution in our riding. It is part of our heritage.
I say that half-jokingly, but I am also serious. It illustrates people's sense of belonging. We want to make this infrastructure work in our region because we know what a remarkable asset it is.
I know that I am revisiting issues that I have already raised. However, since I have the time, I will again address the issue of the electrification of the rail line. It is very important, and CN’s attitude to this issue poses a problem.
I often have conversations with my colleagues, who are ministers and members of the National Assembly. We all more or less have the same vision as far as objectives for public transportation are concerned. A common vision in the region is a good thing, and helps steer progress.
On the other hand, it is understandable that the AMT has projects and that CN is a source of friction. Indeed, they have differing interests and their situations are not the same. Yet, what has been most disturbing in this issue is the lack of dialogue. When this decision was made, the AMT did not seem to know why; CN simply said that it was too expensive, that that was that, and that it was no longer in the cards.
Had the original developers of the railway, both in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada, said that building the railway was too expensive, little progress would have been made. That is precisely the kind of mentality that CN and CP need to do away with. We do not deal with CN and CP as much back home, but these companies still have a role to play, and some of my colleagues do deal with them. That kind of mentality cannot be allowed. We know that it is expensive. We know that it is an investment. I believe that, in the long term, it is going to help reduce costs and promote the kind of environment that is so important for our farmers.
For example, the closer one gets to the Cities of Richelieu and Chambly—which are in my riding and are adjacent to the municipality of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, in the riding of Saint-Jean—the more railways there are. However, they are mostly outdated and no longer in use. The municipality would really like to use this infrastructure and space. However, CP is dragging its feet, at least I believe that it is CP that is doing so.
All of this to say that when a municipality wants to use infrastructure and cannot do so, it is extremely problematic. When municipalities ask for answers, there needs to be an immediate dialogue. CN and CP have everything to gain by engaging in such a dialogue. It can only help them to do their job.
A CN representative, who I will not name out of respect, told me that if Canadians were to communicate directly with CN and tell them about their problems, CN would be in a better position to respond. However, that might not be so easy since these issues are localized. That is no secret. Residents in the region communicate with their elected representatives. Residents with those kinds of concerns call their mayor, municipal councillor or member of Parliament.
When citizens call elected officials and the elected officials contact CN, I think that this corporation should understand that it is time for action. The fact that it does not come directly from a citizen is no excuse not to act. We are very ready to act.
I appear to be very critical toward CN and CP, but it bears repeating. We understand they have had great success and that they are still successful. However, in certain respects, they must be more open and engage in more dialogue.
This is why I am pleased that this bill was introduced. The government has decided that these corporations must speak and work with people. There are certain standards to be met.
If this is representative of things to come in terms of the railway, in my riding in particular, then I will be quite pleased to continue supporting them and engaging in a dialogue with them.