Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of Bill C-52, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act.
Before I get going, I cannot help but mention that here we are, trying to debate an important piece of legislation, and yet the government has moved time allocation once again. This is the 37th time. What does the government have against parliamentary democracy? Why is it so determined to shut down debate and to prevent members of Parliament from having their say on important pieces of legislation? My colleague said how important this legislation is, and because it is so important, I am very disappointed that the Conservatives had to use these tactics yet again.
When we look at this bill, it actually gives our rail freight customers, or shippers, the right to service agreements with rail companies, especially CN and CP. It also puts into place, as my colleague said, a Canadian Transportation Agency-led arbitration process for failed negotiations, and penalties for violating the arbitration results.
This all sounds good, but I want us to take a look at what this means. By the way, we are speaking in favour of this bill. However, we do not believe this bill is complete. It does not address all the issues that the shippers, farmers and everybody needed it to address, but it does go part of the way.
We call this bill a baby step in the right direction. As good behaviour should always be rewarded, it is a piece of legislation going in the right direction. We have heard that this will not alleviate all the challenges faced by the shippers but it will go a long way in addressing a few of them. It is one of those cases of “better something than nothing”. That is why we are supporting this bill.
At this time I want to acknowledge the work done by the member for Trinity—Spadina on this file. She is an amazing critic for the transportation file. She is dedicated, passionate and has worked incredibly hard with different organizations of shippers, and representatives from the mining companies, the pulse growers, the Canadian Wheat Board, the automotive industry, as well as the mineral and chemical companies.
It is her commitment, compassion and not letting go of this issue that I believe has forced the Conservative government to bring this bill to this House right now. Quite honestly, they have been dilly-dallying over this piece of legislation for a very long time, long after the report was out. They have had lots of time to act.
The member for Trinity—Spadina has a private member's bill, Bill C-441, rail customer protection act. It is her absolute advocacy and outreach, and that kind of work in the House, as well as the pressure from the shipping community, that has put pressure on the Conservatives to table legislation.
I think we should always give credit when members of Parliament put in an incredible amount of work to benefit our farmers, mining companies, automotive companies that have to move cars, and, of course, all the other resource industries as well, including forestry. We are absolutely delighted with the work that the member has done.
I also want to pick up on something that was said just a few minutes ago. CN made a profit of $2.7 billion in 2012, in one year, yet when I look at the penalty they will face, it is $100,000. By the way, that penalty is not paid to the shippers; it will be paid to the government.
I look at that and ask which lobby group has been successful. One just has to take a look at this bill. I have talked with shippers in my riding and visited a port where grains and legumes come in. This is when I learned something absolutely amazing, which you will be surprised at as well, Mr. Speaker. Did members know that Canada is the largest provider of pulses to India? In my naiveté, I always thought that lentils, chickpeas and all of those legumes were being brought to Canada from India and other countries. I was quite shocked to find out it was the opposite. It was the Canadian consul in Chandigarh who told me. He presented the figures and asked me if I knew that Canada is the largest exporter of legumes to India. A lot of those legumes go through the port of Vancouver and the port of Delta.
What I have heard from business people in my community, those who receive and ship, is the travesty that exists right now. They actually have to wait, sometimes for days and days, because the promised carriages do not arrive. If they are slow to unload a trolley—I think it is called a trolley—when it arrives, they end up having to pay fines, but there are no consequences for the railway companies if they are late, do not send enough trolleys or if the trolleys that arrive are damaged and, therefore, cannot be used.
I looked at the ledger with one of these business people in great detail, who wanted to show me the impact it was having on his business. Let us say that he does not get the shipment on time, that the shipment of pulses that arrives from the Prairies does not get to his place on time. In the meantime, he not only has trucks and truck drivers waiting but labourers waiting to unload, and he has time booked at the port. Guess what? He has to pay all of them, through no fault of his own, just because the railway company is delayed or because it does not deliver all the trolleys he was expecting on that date.
I thought it must just be a few dollars here and there. I was surprised at how much these shippers pay if they do not empty the trolleys on time. However, I was also shocked at the port fees they still had to pay if they did not take up their spots and how the costs escalated the longer they waited. Really, we are not talking about simple costing. This bill has compensation—no, not compensation, a slight penalty for the railway companies of $100,000 when they make $2.7 billion in profit. Guess who that money goes to? It does not go to offset the real costs incurred by the shippers and receivers, those who grow and ship the goods. That money goes to the government.
I have been shaking my head on that one, thinking this makes very little sense. Does the government really have a vested interest in making sure that this new piece of legislation really works, if it knows that every time CN Rail is late, it is going to get $100,000? That does not seem like a penalty. It seems like the government has built in a bonus for itself. We really have to take a look at that.
Our railway system is the backbone of our country. There is no doubt about it. From some of the early CP and CN stories we have all read about, glorious or not so glorious, we know that 70% of our surface goods are moved by rail. That is a significant amount. When we say that there are shippers who actually suffer the consequence of this, we are not talking about a small number of people.
This is another figure that absolutely astounded me. It is that 80% of service commitments for agricultural rail customers are not met by rail companies. I think 80% would get a big F if I were grading them for service. Let us say, out of 100 times, 80 times they fail to meet their deadlines. We are talking about produce that has to be moved quickly and people are waiting for it. We are also talking about some produce that could get spoiled, but we are also talking about the ricochet or cascading costs that I just mentioned earlier.
There are delays. There are insufficient numbers of rail cars. Some rail cars arrive and they are damaged. Sometimes they order 12 rail cars and guess how many arrive? For one person I was talking to, shippers might only get half the rail cars they ordered. That puts all kinds of stress on the system. Once again, when we look at the losses incurred by the shippers, the bill fails to address that. I would urge my colleagues, even at this late stage because it is in their hands, to really take a look at that.
The rail freight service review said that 80% of shippers are not satisfied. By the way, we are not talking about one industry. Of course agriculture plays a huge role in this area, but we are also talking about forestry, natural resources, manufactured goods, mining, chemicals and as I said earlier, all the agricultural belt. Key stakeholders in agriculture, mining and forestry industries, not just individual people but associations representing these industries, have been calling for freight legislation for years.
Let me give some examples: Pulse Canada, Grain Growers of Canada, Forestry Products Association of Canada and the Mining Association of Canada. Once again I would say that as I have talked with many business people in my community who are involved in the shipping industry they have been so full of praise for the member for Trinity—Spadina who has done such great work on this file.
Canada's shippers deserve fair and reliable rail freight service for the good money they are paying. Right now with the way our country is, CN and CP seem to hold a dual monopoly. The impact of that monopoly has not been addressed by Bill C-52 because the one area that has not been addressed is pricing. That is a critical part as well, and it is not only pricing, but also the fact that there is no compensation for the shippers.
There were six recommendations from the shipping community at the committee stage, sensible, practical and modest. They were all rejected. This is an all too familiar pattern. I sit at the immigration committee as vice-chair, and it does not seem to matter what amendments we propose. Even amendments that the minister thinks would be really good ones because we take up his wording just get rejected.
However, these were not amendments from the opposition. These were amendments suggested by the shipping community, the business community, the people who are the backbone of this country who pay taxes and who were looking to the government to show them a level playing field. Once again, the government has failed to show a level playing field to all the industries I mentioned, including agriculture. Once again, it has chosen to stand closer to the big corporate friends like the railway lines, CP and CN.
Members know that the NDP is not going to give up. We are not planning to go away. We are planning to work harder than ever. We will continue to work with the shipping community to tackle the issue of gouging through uncompetitive rail freight rates.
Do members know what? This was an opportunity for the government to address that issue, to take a holistic approach, instead of taking a baby step, a very tiny baby step. In here, we can talk about the economy. We can talk about growing jobs. We can talk about all kinds of issues. However, here was a concrete opportunity for the current government to do something that would help to bolster our economy, agriculture, the mining industry, the forestry industry and the automotive industry. Once again, it was very short-sighted and just decided to take a baby step.
One of the key things we have to take a look at is that when we look at the moving of goods and think that 70% of our surface goods are moved by rail, in this huge country—and by the way, as we know, moving goods by rail is much more environmentally sound than it is to move them by road—the government had an opportunity, at this time, to support the pulse growers, the grain growers, the mining industry and the forestry industry.
We know that disruptions to rail freight services and unacceptable service costs cost the Canadian economy hundreds of millions of dollars every year. The businessmen I have talked to when I have taken a look at the losses they incur, when they incur those losses, they impact the community I live in. They impact right across this country. A few of the business people have been telling me that they absolutely—