House of Commons Hansard #57 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was public.


An Act to amend the Access to Information Act (transparency and duty to document)Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.


Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise today to speak in strong and enthusiastic support for the private member's bill introduced by my friend from Winnipeg Centre.

I am a little concerned. I thought this bill would have found unanimous support in the House. I say that because I know that my friend utilized the 2006 campaign promises in the Accountability Act by the Conservative Party. These were principles, every single one of the six that are before us tonight, that found their way into that document. I assumed that we were here to give support to those principles.

I want to thank my friend from Winnipeg North who just spoke and who made a very constructive suggestion in urging the House to pass the bill and allow it to be sent to committee where we can look at it in greater detail.

I have a great interest in this topic. I studied freedom of information in the United States in graduate school. I was invited by the former Government of British Columbia to draft its freedom of information and protection of privacy act, the first bill of its kind in that province, which received unanimous support in the legislative assembly.

This is a topic I care a great deal about. I worked as a lobbyist for the Canadian Bar Association some 30 years or more ago when the Conservatives had to grapple with the new Access to Information Act. That was a bill under the Joe Clark administration, which was visited upon Mr. Trudeau's regime subsequently, and it was finally Mr. Mulroney who had to live with the consequences of Canada's first Access to Information Act.

Concern has motivated this reform initiative, concern that it has been over 30 years that we have had the act. Imagine what has changed in that period. The advent of computers is something that needs to be considered. Emails, correspondence, that sort of thing, were not even part of the scene back in 1982 when our Access to Information Act was first brought in.

The act attempted to change a culture of secrecy that is part of our Westminster parliamentary system, alas, and there was great optimism that it would do so.

Since that time, the courts have said that access to information is what they term a “quasi-constitutional” right; not quite a charter right, but something approaching that in its importance.

I had the great honour to work with the Conservative member of Parliament for Peace River, the late Jed Baldwin, who has been called the father of freedom of information in this country, and who worked tirelessly to promote the first such bill.

I worked on a committee of the House of Commons with my friend and constituent David Flaherty, one of Canada's leading experts on data protection. That committee came up with 102 recommendations for reform of the legislation before us, the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act. I am pleased that there was unanimous support for that bill, including a backbencher at the time, the member of Parliament for Niagara Falls, who subsequently has become the Minister of National Defence in the current government, joining in a unanimous report to promote change in this legislation.

I thought that there would be no difficulty in having the six principles that were in the 2006 accountability platform of the Conservative Party of Canada brought forward and implemented. I heard the parliamentary secretary speak to those six elements and I think they deserve greater attention.

The first element is the order-making power, not to simply have an ombudsperson who recommends to government what it should do, but an order-making power. That was the centrepiece of the legislative change in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Newfoundland, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and on it goes. Every province has that power; the federal government chooses not to. I concede that the parliamentary secretary is right in referring to John Reid and Mr. Grace in saying they did not think that was necessary, but subsequently that has been what most critics have said is required.

The second thing in the bill is the expansion to crown corporations, officers of Parliament, and the like. I cannot see why that is particularly controversial.

Third, there is controversy about the nature of cabinet confidences. The parliamentary secretary spoke to that. I would be the first to agree that it is central in our system of government that there be cabinet confidences.

The issue is whether we need the only exclusion in the Commonwealth, the only exclusion of which I am aware anywhere, that is protecting cabinet confidences. That came from a time when the clerk of the Privy Council, Mr. Pitfield, argued that the only way we would get the law in Canada would be if we had it.

It has been 30 years. None of the provinces have it. We have not seen the world come to an end. Cabinet confidences are still an exemption, not an exclusion. That is, there is a box around cabinet confidences that would remain. There is no problem with this that the other provinces have encountered. It has not been a problem.

The exclusion that was in here was a cost of getting this bill through the then Liberal government. It is no longer necessary. I believe that would bring us in harmony with what other provinces uniformly have.

My friend from Winnipeg Centre stressed the importance of the fourth element, which was the requirement to create records, to document government, to not have an oral culture. If we talk to archivists and people who work in the public service, they will acknowledge that there needs to be such a section. There needs to be a place we can go to find out what the government is doing with our money to create records that are the public's.

The next thing that was talked about, which was the public interest override, is something that is likewise found certainly in the British Columbia and Ontario statutes and I believe in others as well. It is not something that has proven to be a great obstacle. I concede that the drafting of that, vis-à-vis the other exemptions, does need attention, and that could be done at committee and given some attention.

The last issue that was problematic, and the one with which the parliamentary secretary began his remarks, is the policy advice exemption. Those in the freedom of information business call this the Mack truck clause. That is, everything can become advice to government and then not be able to be seen.

What is in place now is a class exemption. If it is called policy advice, that is the end of the story. The reform the Conservatives promoted back in 2006, and that we hope will be accepted now, is that there be an injury test to determine whether the disclosure, although it would be policy advice, would reasonably be likely to harm some government interest.

In response to the parliamentary secretary, there are still lots of other exemptions if that one were no longer available. We would still be able to argue that it would be injurious to national security, to use an example the parliamentary secretary used, or it could be a cabinet confidence or one of the many other exemptions that are listed in this statute. The difference would be that the government could not just say that it is in that box, that exemption, that category. It would have to say, and prove, that it would cause harm.

That does not seem like a particularly radical notion. Indeed, it is one that is found in statutes across the land and across the world. When the Conservative governments of England brought in a freedom of information act, they had no trouble with the principles being proposed by my friend from Winnipeg Centre.

This is modern legislation that takes into account the computer era in which we live. I have tried to go through the six elements of the bill, all of them accepted and promoted by the Conservatives when they were seeking office. That is why I hope we can persuade the Conservatives to go back to where they came from, to their roots, and seek the kind of transparency, the kind of accountability, I think Canadians elected them to promote.

I do not think there is any need to be partisan about this. It is a quasi-constitutional right, the courts have said. Let us get it right. Let us make it as good as we can.

Again, I am indebted to my friend from Winnipeg North, who suggested that we send it to committee so that we can look at it, examine it, hear from experts, and see what the problems may or may not be.

It is not just my friend from Winnipeg Centre and I who are concerned about this. Our current Information Commissioner, Suzanne Legault, has said as follows:

Access is one of the tools that make citizen engagement in government and the public policy process possible. When institutions falter in their service to requesters, it is more than just an inconvenience to those individuals and organizations; ultimately, it is the health of Canadian democracy that is at stake.

Thirty years later, we stand before this House again to try to realize the dream that Canadians have of an accountable government, and access to information is the root of that. I say it is time to join together and create a transparent and accountable government through this legislation.

An Act to amend the Access to Information Act (transparency and duty to document)Private Members' Business

7 p.m.

Mississauga—Erindale Ontario


Bob Dechert ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I rise at this time to comment on Bill C-567, an act to amend the Access to Information Act, transparency and duty to document. This private member's bill by the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre would make a number of amendments to the Access to Information Act.

I do not know if members of this House are aware that the NDP member for Winnipeg Centre introduced his first private member's bill to amend the Access to Information Act in May 2008. Bill C-554 was at the time entitled “An Act to amend the Access to Information Act (open government)”.

I will say that the proposals contained in that bill were not new. The member of Parliament was essentially introducing proposals developed by Information Commissioner John Reid in 2005. Some of these proposals were even endorsed by Justice John Gomery in his 2006 report for the commission of inquiry into the sponsorship program. The proposals are overall the same: expanded coverage of the act, duty to create records, repealing the exclusion for cabinet confidences, et cetera. Bill C-554 died on the order paper with the dissolution of Parliament in 2008.

The member for Winnipeg Centre reintroduced his bill in the 40th Parliament in February 2009. It was then numbered Bill C-326, and it was also called “open government”. The bill did not progress after first reading.

The same proposals were reintroduced by the member for Winnipeg Centre in September 2011 in Bill C-301 under the same title. The bill did not go further than the first reading.

Here we are today with Bill C-567, an act to amend the Access to Information Act. Bill C-567 is subtitled “transparency and duty to document” instead of “open government”, but it is essentially the same as the previous bills.

We can all agree that strong access to information legislation is essential to a properly functioning democracy. It is true that an effective system of democracy requires the government to be accountable for its policies and their administration. We all recognize that access to information legislation acts as a check on government activity.

In one of its first judgments regarding the act, the Supreme Court of Canada clearly stated that for a country to have access to information legislation is an integral part of democracy. Our government wholeheartedly agreed with this view.

Let me turn now to all the steps our government has already taken to promote open government, transparency, and accountability.

In April 2006, our government introduced the Federal Accountability Act and action plan. Through the Federal Accountability Act and action plan, the Government of Canada brought forward specific measures to help strengthen accountability and increase transparency and oversight in government operations. The comprehensive action plan includes the Federal Accountability Act as well as supporting policy and other non-legislative measures.

The Federal Accountability Act amended the Access to Information Act in important areas. It focused on openness and accountability by expanding the coverage of the act to include a number of officers of Parliament and all Crown corporations, as well as various foundations created under federal statute. It also facilitated openness by creating a duty for government institutions to assist requesters without regard to their identity, and to make reasonable efforts to respond accurately and completely to their requests, in the format requested.

However, the federal accountability action plan did not just amend the Access to Information Act to improve transparency, openness, and accountability of government; it also amended other specific legislation and strengthened the policy framework to improve accountability.

I will give a short list of the main things that were achieved through the action plan, which all translate into more openness, transparency, and accountability of government.

We cleaned up the procurement process for government contracts by enshrining in a law a commitment to fairness, transparency, and openness in the process and by appointing an independent procurement auditor to provide additional oversight. That is a major achievement toward transparency.

We did more.

We strengthened the power of the Auditor General by expanding the reach and scope of the Auditor General's investigative powers to help Parliament hold the government to account.

We strengthened auditing and accountability requirements within departments by clarifying the managerial responsibilities of deputy heads within the framework of ministerial responsibility, and by bolstering the internal audit function within departments and Crown corporations. This translates into a requirement to document decisions and actions in a variety of areas.

I stress once more that our government has already done a lot in the area of transparency, openness, and accountability, and we continue to find ways to do more.

For example, my hon. colleague, the President of the Treasury Board, who shares with the Minister of Justice the responsibility for the Access to Information Act, is currently modernizing the policies regarding the act and examining ways to simplify the process for access requesters.

Last June, the President of the Treasury Board launched the Government of Canada's next generation open data portal, providing unprecedented access to government data and information, and demonstrating Canada's international commitment to transparency and open government. The open data portal contains datasets compiled by over 20 departments and agencies, covering a broad range of topics, from housing to health and environmental data. By accessing the portal, people have the opportunity to explore local census or crime statistics, immigration data, air quality data, coast-to-coast mapping data, and much more.

In January of this year, the President of the Treasury Board launched an initiative where access requesters can make their demands online via the access to information and privacy online request tool. More federal organizations are now a part of this initiative. In the first 10 months since the tool was launched, almost 21,000 requests have been submitted using this option.

Let us not forget the open government initiative, which Canada is a part of. This international movement has translated into key achievements for Canadians, such as their capacity now to browse online through summaries of completed access to information requests from key federal institutions, their capacity to search the Government of Canada's expenditure database for detailed departmental spending information, and the proactive disclosure of financial and human resources related information of federal government departments.

What our government has realized is that there is no one single vehicle to improve transparency and accountability and to achieve openness of government. Transparency and accountability can and must be achieved through a variety of measures and instruments. The Access to Information Act is not the only vehicle by which to achieve transparency.

The purpose of the Access to Information Act is quite clear. It is to extend the present laws of Canada to provide a right of access to information in records under the control of a government institution, in accordance with the principles that government information should be made available to the public and that necessary exceptions to the right of access should be limited.

Thirty-one years ago, when it enacted the Access to Information Act after many studies, Parliament recognized that a balance was needed between transparency and secrecy, that not every government document should be made available to the public and that certain interests deserved to be protected.

The Access to Information Act is, by its nature, all about a complex balancing of openness, transparency, and accessibility to Canadians, and accountability. The Access to Information Act is a powerful piece of legislation that works. It works because it reveals what needs to be revealed, and equally importantly, through its exemptions, it protects information that must be protected for a properly functioning democracy.

Although we are prepared to examine the proposals in the bill, we also need to keep in mind everything that we have done to achieve transparency and accountability in this government.

An Act to amend the Access to Information Act (transparency and duty to document)Private Members' Business

7:05 p.m.


Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be brief because I do not have much time.

I would like to congratulate my colleague on his initiative. The Access to Information Act is extremely outdated. We have been suggesting changes for a long time, but nobody has done anything. Today our colleague wants us to take action.

I was disgusted when I heard the parliamentary secretary say that the bill had quite a few problems. After all, it was copied right from the Conservative platform. He might as well have been commenting on the Conservatives' commitments and their promises to Canadians.

The Conservatives should keep the promises they made to Canadians in the hopes of getting elected. They should support my colleague's bill. Numerous experts, including the Information Commissioner, Suzanne Legault, who is doing an excellent job, have asked the government to update the law because it is outdated.

An Act to amend the Access to Information Act (transparency and duty to document)Private Members' Business

7:10 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Terrebonne—Blainville will have nine minutes to speak when the House resumes debate on this motion.

The hour provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired. The order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

International TradeAdjournment Proceedings

7:10 p.m.


Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, New Democrats believe in open and progressive trade. We believe in negotiating new market access for our exporters to unlock good jobs here in Canada. We believe in promoting value-added industries to raise standards of living and create benefits for all Canadians and across all sectors.

Canada is a wealthy country and a trading nation. We have maintained strong trade balances for decades, yet this story has changed under the Conservative government.

On February 11, I asked the Minister of International Trade to explain to Canadians why his trade policies were failing to reverse Canada's troubling numbers on trade. I was referring to news that Canada's trade deficit had widened to $1.7 billion in December 2013, worse than that forecasted by economic experts, and that Canada's monthly merchandise trade deficit was now more than two years old. That deficit was big enough in that fiscal quarter to knock a full percentage point off of Canada's GDP.

Since then, Statistics Canada has announced that Canada's current account deficit has increased to $16 billion in the fourth quarter of 2013, and our current account deficit for 2013 now totals $61 billion. Our current account has been in deficit now for five straight consecutive years.

When the Conservatives came to power in 2006, they inherited a current account surplus of some $26 billion. Today we have a current account deficit of some $61 billion. That is an $85-billion swing in seven years. That is a $12-billion loss in our current account performance for each and every year that the Conservatives have been in power.

Worse, our trade woes are entirely sectoral. In a written statement about Canada's trade deficit made last November, BMO chief economist Doug Porter said, “there is energy (doing just fine) and there is everything else (doing anything but fine)”. In 2013, Canadian energy exports saw a $63-billion surplus, while everything else in Canada's economic basket saw a $73-billion deficit.

Canadians are rightly proud of our energy sector, but a modern, well-diversified economy needs to be firing on all of its cylinders, not just one. The Conservatives want Canadians to trust them when they tell us that they understand the economy. If they do understand economics, Conservatives should admit that these statistics are bad news for a sustainable and prosperous Canadian economy.

As Conservatives should know, a country that runs a sustained current account deficit is building liabilities with the rest of the world, and eventually those liabilities need to paid back.

According to senior IMF officials, “whether a country should run a current account deficit depends on the extent of its foreign liabilities (its external debt) and on whether the borrowing will finance investment with a higher marginal product than the interest rate...the country has to pay on its foreign liabilities”.

Let us think about this for a minute. Canada's foreign debt has never been higher than it is now under the Conservative government. As evidenced by our export performance that I mentioned earlier, the Conservative legacy for Canada amounts to putting all of Canada's economic eggs in a narrow basket.

Canada's productivity has slumped by almost 2% since the Conservatives came to power in 2006. It is also the case that while fluctuations in the current account are tolerable, a chronic sustained current account deficit hurts our economy. According to IMF analysis, these are not the conditions under which a government can justify long-term current account deficits.

It makes one wonder what happens if commodity prices or production drops in Canada's energy sector. With massive Conservative-induced government debt, productivity weakness, and no significant export growth in other sectors, Canada's current account deficit is a problem that the government simply cannot continue to ignore.

That is why our Bank of Canada has singled out Canada's poor export performance as a major cause of Canada's slow growth and lack of well-paying, full-time jobs.

Any investment planner in Canada would advise Canadians to do three things: diversify, diversify, diversify, and deal with chronic deficit.

How can the Conservatives continue to justify their massive current account deficits year after year after year?

International TradeAdjournment Proceedings

March 5th, 2014 / 7:15 p.m.

Durham Ontario


Erin O'Toole ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for repeating “diversification” three times in his question, because that strategy shows the underpinnings of our government's approach to trade and our approach to ensuring that we close the current account deficit with respect to trade. We are in the midst of a diversification effort that really is unparalleled. Sadly, there is no diversification in the NDP's long and multi-generational opposition to trade.

The member mentioned the energy sector and mentioned that everything else is having difficulties. Really, the global recession in 2008 shows why nations have been struggling, particularly in the manufacturing sector. Canadians relied for several generations on our U.S. markets to the south, which had a voracious appetite for pretty much everything we produced as goods and services.

For example, in 2008 our exports to the United States were $368 billion. Global recession hit. The next year, in 2009, those exports to the United States dropped to $270 billion as a result of the crisis. Statistics in 2012 show that important and critical relationship regrowing for Canada, but those export levels remained at around 10% below the pre-recession levels. It is important to note the consistency on the NDP's side with respect to the U.S. free trade agreement and ultimately NAFTA: that party opposed both of those agreements.

One in five jobs in Canada is attributable to trade, and 40,000 small, medium, and large Canadian enterprises are exporters. Our global commerce strategy, which was reinvigorated and strategically focused in November of last year into the global markets action plan, is addressing the need for new markets. I will show why, because my friend used some statistics.

The period between 2009 and 2013 is a result of our diversification effort. U.S. export growth is recovering. Traditional markets like the United Kingdom are up 16%; Mexico, our NAFTA partner, is up by 13%. However, importantly, new and emerging markets around the world are up as well. They include China, up 84%, and Hong Kong, up 229%. Through our global markets action plan, this government takes a strategic approach to grow new markets so that Canadian employers can sell our best goods and services in new and growing markets.

There are markets where we have had drops. Germany is down 7% and South Korea shows a drop of 3%, mainly because the U.S. and other countries have free trade agreements with South Korea. I am happy to say the European trade deal agreement in principle will address some of our gaps in Europe, and our negotiations with South Korea, which I urge my hon. colleague to support, will address the trade drop with South Korea that exists because of our competitive disadvantage to our competitors. As we have signed free trade agreements, trade with those countries has grown exponentially because of our work in diversifying. Exports to Colombia have grown by 22%, to Peru by 42%, and to Switzerland by 48%.

Clearly our government has shown through the global markets action plan that we are going to target key areas and key industries where we can sell our world-class goods and services not just to our traditional trading partners here in North America but in important growing economies around the world. I truly hope that my friend and colleague from the trade committee urges his colleagues in the NDP to stop their party's decades-long opposition to trade and to recognize the opportunities for Canadian employers under our global markets action plan.

International TradeAdjournment Proceedings

7:20 p.m.


Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, in the statistics that my friend raised it is interesting that the highest percentage increase in trade comes with those countries that we do not have trade agreements with, China and Hong Kong. That speaks to some flaws in the current neoliberal trade template that I would urge my friend to take a look at.

We have trade-related problems in this country, and all the rhetoric in the world will not change that. We have had record-breaking current account deficits five years in a row. We have record-breaking foreign debt. We have a hollowed-out economy. We have low productivity. As well, we must remember that all liabilities caused by these recurring current account deficits need to be paid back. This raises an important question about process.

American and European trade negotiators are releasing trade text to legislators and the public. Why does the government insist on secrecy when our allies choose transparency? Does it have something to hide? With all this bad news about trade in Canada, Canadians need to know that the Conservatives are being watched on the trade file. Canadians deserve checks and balances in our trade negotiations to ensure they do not get another bad deal from the Conservative government.

Are the Conservatives afraid to be transparent with Canadians because their government's trade performance, objectively, is so poor?

International TradeAdjournment Proceedings

7:20 p.m.


Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is late in the evening here in this place, but I am optimistic because the member did focus on our growing trade with Asia. Specifically, he mentioned China. I take that as a sign that perhaps my friend will talk to his colleagues about the importance of foreign investment protection and promotion agreements that secure legal certainty and rights for Canadian exporters in parts of the world where such rights do not yet exist. A FIPA with China would provide Canadian employers, people who employ people in his riding and mine, some certainty.

I am optimistic that the hon. member is turning the page with his caucus and that they will support the foreign investment protection and promotion agreement with China when it comes due.

The European Union's ambassador to Canada highlighted the exceptional amount of sector and regional overview that we have provided on the European trade deal, saying that she uses our materials to talk about the agreement.

I hope to see my colleague tomorrow as we get an update from departmental officials on the trans-Pacific partnership discussions.

Rail TransportationAdjournment Proceedings

7:20 p.m.


Bruce Hyer Green Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, Canada's national transportation system is deteriorating, and that is hurting our economy. Passenger rail is in jeopardy, and three successive Conservative transportation ministers have neglected to enforce the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act.

When rail infrastructure deteriorates, federal rail and transport agencies are not even empowered to fix anything. They can only tell trains to slow down or get off the track altogether. Too many of our railways have slow or stop orders, holding up grain shipments and VIA Rail passengers.

The Minister of Transport is the only person with the power to order that the federal railways be maintained or upgraded. Rail companies only invest the minimum amount to maintain the railways for the services that help their bottom line. New businesses cannot invest, and existing companies cannot adapt quickly.

The Conservative government, like the Liberal government before it, has brushed off private sector innovation to revitalize Canada's railways. With business development at a standstill, more crucial railway lines are being cut permanently.

We no longer have the capacity to handle additional service when needed on short notice, so our grain shipments are held up. More available routes would give us this ability. Instead, we are losing those options. Sir. John A. Macdonald must be shaking his head to see his visionary investment now in jeopardy under today's Conservatives.

Rail safety is in a needlessly tragic state in Canada. Many lives have been lost in recent months to derailments and disasters. The government has allowed rail carriers to self-regulate and has granted them exemptions from carrying adequate brakes or even testing the brakes. Self-regulation is not working.

Last year, the Auditor General reported that Transport Canada has too few safety auditors and that its inspectors are poorly trained. He said that Canadians do not even have a “minimum level of assurance” that the railways are complying with safety rules. What is more, passenger rail has never been in a worse state. We are on the brink of losing coast to coast service altogether. Canada remains the only G20 nation with no national rail strategy.

I did a whistle-stop tour through the Maritimes this past weekend, through Bathurst, Miramichi, Campbellton, Amherst, Truro, and smaller towns in-between that need that Ocean train. However, passenger service connecting the rest of Canada and Nova Scotia and New Brunswick is now in jeopardy because CN Rail is abandoning 71 kilometres of track between Miramichi and Bathurst.

In addition, the Minister of Transport says that she is not willing to spend the $10 million to take over this stretch of track. Why not? Far more federal money was spent in buying sections of track in southern Ontario to preserve VIA Rail service there. The minister just says that private industry can do what it wants.

Why are the Maritimes being marginalized? Enough of this mismanagement and lack of common sense. Will the Minister of Transport provide the House with information on all of the railways that have been discontinued since the Conservatives took power in 2006, and take control of any abandoned section of rail line that VIA Rail needs to operate a coast to coast service? At long last, will the minister table a national rail strategy in the House?

Rail TransportationAdjournment Proceedings

7:25 p.m.

Essex Ontario


Jeff Watson ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, there was a whole lot there in the member's question. The member raised a lot of different topics, everything from rail safety to VIA Rail. I think the focus toward the end was a little more on the VIA Rail side.

The member will know that our government provides significant funding to support passenger rail services. For example, in 2012–13, our government provided VIA Rail, a crown corporation that operates at arm's length from the government, with $275 million across its network for passenger rail services to Canadians.

In addition, since 2006, we have invested about $1 billion in capital funding, supporting projects on everything from station upgrades to rail car refurbishment and track improvements. I will note that the member opposite opposed all of that funding, at every turn.

On the specific rail line mentioned in New Brunswick, the member will know, the government has said it has no intention to buy the track. CN has indicated its plans to advertise it for sale. Instead, our role is to provide a legislative framework that encourages stakeholders to seek commercial solutions to address the discontinuance of rail lines.

The Canada Transportation Act actually lays out the process that railways must follow if they want to stop service on those lines. The line transfer or discontinuance provisions in the Canada Transportation Act are aimed at encouraging the retention of rail lines, where it makes sense to do so, by giving other railways or other interested parties the opportunity to continue railway operations.

While the discontinuance process is under way, CN will continue to be responsible for maintaining the rail line and ensuring the service is not disrupted. If CN does complete the discontinuance process for this portion of track, VIA Rail, as an independent crown corporation, will have to make its own decision about passenger rail services in New Brunswick.

Our government is obviously going to continue to monitor that particular circumstance.

I want to address the issue of rail safety. The minister has taken a number of very important actions related to rail safety. Our government has taken a number of actions consistently for a number of years.

We have invested over $100 million in our rail safety system. We continue to hire inspectors for inspections across the country. Last year alone, we did a record 30,000 traditional inspections of everything from track to equipment, and that is in addition to the inspections that railway companies themselves are required to do, by the way.

We brought in important whistleblower protection so that employees who may see something that goes contrary to the rules will have the immunity they need to be able to report those types of incidents, and new administrative monetary penalties to increase the suite of compliance mechanisms available to Transport Canada officials at the conclusion of investigations so they can look at how to penalize infractions. That makes the system far more robust.

I could go on and on. There are information-sharing protocols with first responders in municipalities, and new permanent rules were put in place for the original emergency directive, post Lac-Mégantic. We are following the recommendations of the Transportation Safety Board.

I could go on and on about how we continue to do more rail safety. The last point I will make is that while we are trying to get our committee out to places like Lac-Mégantic, so we can find more things to improve rail safety in this country, opposition members continue to hold up that important committee travel.

Rail TransportationAdjournment Proceedings

7:30 p.m.


Bruce Hyer Green Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, the fact is, funding to VIA Rail has been cut 62% in the last two years.

Just last weekend, I rode VIA Rail from Halifax to Sainte Foy. Recently cut from six to three times per week, that train may soon be gone. Over 500 people came out to protest and to talk with me; 130 in Halifax, over 200 in Moncton, and over 150 in Campbellton at 10 o'clock at night. There were seniors who can't drive in the winter, students who travel to university, and cancer patients who travel to hospital.

They are angry that they voted for Conservative MPs who now refuse to fight for them and their train. They are angry at spineless or self-serving MPs who say pretty things in their ridings but refuse to actually represent them in Ottawa. They asked—

Rail TransportationAdjournment Proceedings

7:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order, please. We do not take points of order in the course of adjournment proceedings.

I am sure all hon. members recall that characterizations of other hon. members get us into a territory that can be a slippery slope. Obviously, we encourage all hon. members to use language that is appropriate to the context of the debate.

The hon. member for Thunder Bay—Superior North.

Rail TransportationAdjournment Proceedings

7:30 p.m.


Bruce Hyer Green Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am just repeating what those people told me. They are angry at what they call self-serving MPs who say pretty things in their ridings but refuse to actually represent them here in Ottawa. They asked why a Green MP from Thunder Bay is supporting them while Conservative and Liberal MPs are missing in action. They made it clear that if the government continues to marginalize the Maritimes, the maritime voters will be seeking a new government.

Rail TransportationAdjournment Proceedings

7:30 p.m.


Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for sinking to an all-time new low with respect to a Green Party intervention in this House with that horrible rant and personal attack against members of Parliament, when the member knows that the honour of members in this House is presumed. To use the words he did, while they may not be unparliamentary, was certain undignified. He should retract those remarks. I will give him an opportunity at some point over the coming days to do so.

The House can rest assured that every investment that has been made over the last number of years in the VIA Rail network has been supported by every member of this Conservative caucus, including members from New Brunswick. The member has been missing in action every single time. He stands up and puts his vote in the opposite direction. He should be ashamed of his record. We are certainly proud of ours.

Rail TransportationAdjournment Proceedings

7:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:34 p.m.)