House of Commons Hansard #200 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was via.


Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Oak Ridges—Markham Ontario


Paul Calandra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and for Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today in this debate.

As members know, the anti-terrorism act, 2015, contains a number of important changes that would strengthen Canada's national security. Among many proposed amendments is a well-considered approach to expanding the mandate of the passenger protection program through the creation of the secure air travel act. This will be the focus of my remarks today.

As everyone should be aware, the international jihadi movement has declared war on Canada and our allies. Canadians have been targeted because these jihadi terrorists hate our freedom and open, tolerant way of life. This is why we introduced this important legislation, which would enhance the government's capacity to identify and mitigate threats to Canada, Canadian interests abroad and our foreign partners.

In so doing, it would be an effective complement to the Combating Terrorism Act, which came into force in July 2013. Unfortunately, the NDP opposed this important measure, effectively voting to allow terrorists to travel without consequence.

The 2014 public report on the terrorist threat to Canada made it clear that our country remained a target for jihadi terrorists. That report included a focus on the government's response to violent extremism and travel abroad for terrorist-related purposes.

The threat of Canadians travelling abroad to participate in jihadi terrorist activities is a significant security challenge and a priority for our Conservative government. Since the threats Canadians face at home are typically connected to developments abroad, it stands to reason that securing Canada's air transportation links to the world must be a priority of our Conservative government. This is why we have proposed these legislative measures to expand the mandate of the passenger protect program to address both threats to transportation security and terrorist travel by air.

Currently Canada uses several mutually reinforcing screening tools to protect the safety and security of Canadian and international air travellers. Passports are a key identifier used by border officers in combination with physical screening of air travellers to reduce the chances of allowing a person with malicious intent or dangerous items to board an aircraft. In an average year, the Canadian Air Transportation Security Authority screens more than 50 million travellers at Canadian airports.

As members may recall, our Conservative government launched the passenger protect program under the Aeronautics Act in 2007. This program screens passengers to identify threats to transportation security and uses measures such as denial of boarding to mitigate those threats. Since the program's mandate is to manage risks through preventive measures, individuals who are denied boarding are not arrested simply for being on the specified persons list. However, when a denial of boarding occurs, program officials always notify the RCMP for public safety reasons.

The anti-terrorism act, 2015, would provide new authorities to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and the Minister of Transport and would define, in legislation, the recourse measures available to individuals affected by the program. Specifically, the legislation would authorize the government to create, maintain and share, where appropriate, a list of individuals who would pose either a threat to transportation security or a risk of travelling by air to engage in terrorism offences abroad. It would enable the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to direct an air carrier to send a listed individual for additional physical screening or refuse boarding outright, if necessary, and it would establish in law a process for affected individuals to appeal their inclusion on the list.

In essence, the provisions would allow us to make needed enhancements to improve the security of air travel and, indeed, the security of Canada, all the while respecting privacy laws and providing a fair process to those who might be affected. Effectively, we are delivering a proportional response to different types of threats.

That is why the proposed legislation defines two distinct decision-making authorities, one to place individuals on or remove them from the list and the other to issue operational response directions. This model would allow the government to confirm an individual's identity documents and travel information at check-in before making a decision that would affect that person's ability to travel. At the same time, it would enable the government to tailor the response to specific circumstances.

Would these new measures place an undue burden upon our security partners? No. Given that the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority already conducts additional physical screening on randomly selected individuals, these new measure would not impose a significant burden upon their workload. At the same time, the enhanced ability to identify and mitigate threats would add an important layer of protection for Canadians and Canadian interests abroad, as well as our foreign partners.

As I have spoken about how the program would work and its minimal impact upon the operations of security partners, let me now say just a few words about safeguards to protect the rights of individual travellers, which take two main forms in the secure travel act.

First, there are the safeguards related to the sharing of the list with foreign governments. Let me be clear. International co-operation on security helps the government to better protect Canada and Canadians. The Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness would carefully assess the impact of any arrangement to share the list and that sharing would happen only in strict accordance with Canadian laws. Furthermore, even with an arrangement in place, our government would continue to assess the risk of disclosure. In some cases, for example, it could decide to share only part of the list with a foreign partner.

The second safeguard with respect to rights revolves around the appeal process for those listed.

Here, again, the secure air travel act would put effective measures in place. Any individual denied boarding could apply to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to be removed from the list. The minister would provide the applicant with a reasonable opportunity to provide new information to the minister to challenge the listing decision. After reviewing the case in its entirety and taking into account any information provided by the applicant, the minister would, within 90 days, decide whether the applicant should remain on the list or be removed.

If the applicant disagreed with the minister's decision, the secure air travel act would set out procedures for appeal to the federal court. The presiding judge would review all relevant evidence, while still protecting sensitive information that could endanger national security or the safety of any person, if disclosed. Applicants would receive a summary of the sensitive information and could, again, submit new evidence to respond to the government's case.

The secure air travel act, as contained in the anti-terrorism act 2015, would then enable the government to identify and mitigate threats to transportation security and to prevent travel by air for terrorism purposes, while providing listed persons with an administrative and judicial recourse, all of this without burdening our security partners.

It is for those reasons that I therefore urge all members to join us in supporting this vital bill.

Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

12:55 p.m.


Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise again on this bill to ask the member the same question before to which I did not get an answer.

The bill would allow information sharing between agencies, government departments, et cetera, and we have no objections to the sharing of some information. However, there is something called the Privacy Act, which is there to protect the privacy of Canadians. This information sharing under the bill would not be subject to the Privacy Act.

Miss Ellen Richardson, a constituent of mine, discovered not too long ago that her personal medical information was shared with the U.S. government through security agencies. Security agencies share everything, with everybody. She was denied a trip and ended up losing $6,000 or $7,000 as a result of this shared information with the U.S. government that prevented her from arriving in the U.S. on her way on a trip.

Would the member like to please advise why the Privacy Act is not being used to protect the privacy of Canadians in the sharing of information?

Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

1 p.m.


Paul Calandra Conservative Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, the safety and security of Canadians is of paramount importance to us. So, too, is the privacy of Canadians.

I pointed out in the bill a number of mechanisms that not only could be utilized by the minister to ensure the safety and security of Canadians, but also the protection of Canadians with respect to their ability to fly.

It should also be noted that, as the member said, it is very important to share information that could become a threat to Canadians and our partners. That is why the legislation would update that and make that information sharing more effective across departments.

I encourage the member to support those measures because, ultimately, it is a measure of public safety and it is a measure of keeping Canadians both safe at home and abroad. It is about working with our international partners to attack the scourge of this global jihadi terrorism and whatever threats may come after that.

Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

1 p.m.

Scarborough Centre Ontario


Roxanne James ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, it is truly unfortunate, as I sit here today and listen to some of the questions coming from the NDP, that such misinformation about the bill is being pushed out, whether intentional or because of a complete, sheer lack of understanding. I certainly hope it is not intentional. However, during clause-by-clause in committee the very first amendment that was put forward by the NDP critic clearly showed he did not have an idea what the information sharing act was about. The fact that the NDP member stood up today and asked a question somehow connecting it to medical information about an individual case is completely outrageous.

The information sharing act has to do with information pertinent to national security and would allow one agency to relay that information on to the appropriate security agency to take action. It is absolutely crucial. We heard from many credible witnesses, unlike the NDP that brought in witnesses who said the sky was falling. Clearly that did not happen.

I would like to ask my hon. colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, what he thinks is the result of this misinformation that is being pushed out there, either intentionally or because of a lack of understanding, and the implications that could have on national security.

Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

1 p.m.


Paul Calandra Conservative Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety. She is doing a fabulous job for her constituents in Scarborough Centre.

This is very important legislation. We have put forward a legislative process that would help protect Canadians. It would help protect Canadians at home and abroad and it would work effectively with our international partners to do that.

The member is quite correct when she talks about some of the misleading statements that have been coming from the members opposite. Perhaps they have not read the bill. I truly believe most of them have read the bill and understand it. However, when we look at what the Liberals in particular have said about this, the leader of the Liberal Party actually got on a stage in British Columbia. Also, the member for Malpeque said earlier today that the only reason the Liberals are supporting this is not because they actually believe in the legislation and how important it is to protect Canadians, but they do not want Canadians to hold it against them if they vote against the bill. That is the Liberal position on this. They do not want Canadians to hold it against them if they vote in favour of the bill.

That speaks to how important the bill is, not only to Conservative members of Parliament but how important it is to Canadians that we pass the bill and do all that we can to ensure the safety and security of Canadians at home and abroad, and that we are part of the global coalition to stop these terrorists wherever they are.

I congratulate the member again for all of her hard work.

Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

1:05 p.m.


Denis Blanchette NDP Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is the first time I have risen to speak to Bill C-51. After everything that has been said, my first instinct is to wonder what has happened to reason.

In this debate, it seems that we are motivated only by negative emotions. That may not be the best way to do things. This bill is obviously based on a well-meaning intention to better protect all Canadians. However, it is important to take a balanced approach in order to ensure, on the one hand, the safety of Canadians and, on the other, respect for their rights. It is vital that we not let ourselves be carried away by our emotions. We have to take a rational approach to this problem.

Since we are at report stage, now is the time to talk about what happened in committee. It is unfortunate that there was a limit on the number of witnesses who could speak during the study of a bill that is probably the most important bill of its kind since the bills that were passed in the aftermath of the tragic events of September 11, 2001. It is also unfortunate that some witnesses who could have made very important contributions to the debate were not able to participate. I am talking about the Privacy Commissioner and the Communications Security Establishment Commissioner, who are not nobodies. If the government had wanted to do a serious study, it would have invited these two people to testify in committee.

I have to wonder why a government that does not listen to all of the stakeholders and all of the experts can claim to be listening to Canadians and meeting their needs. Although the government invited a lot of witnesses, it is important to note that the vast majority of them—45 out of 48 witnesses—expressed concerns about this bill. That means that the bill is not perfect and still needs a lot of work.

Unfortunately, I get the impression that the government does not want to hear what anyone else has to say. It made its decision and does whatever it wants. However, more and more people are adopting the position that the NDP has defended since the very beginning. I could give a list of people and groups who have taken positions similar to ours. I am thinking of the Privacy Commissioner, the advisor to the UN's Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force, the former assistant director of intelligence with CSIS, and the former chief of the Ottawa Police Service, as well as others, such as journalists, columnists and editorialists. Many of them have expressed concern about the bill as it now stands.

What is more, many of my constituents have shared their concerns with me about this dangerous bill. That is also important to mention. I would also like to point out that the Stop C-51 campaign alone has collected nearly 200,000 signatures from Canadians. Are 200,000 concerned Canadians not enough to make the government think again about this bill? That is something that the government really needs to consider.

Bills, particularly bills about security, require a balanced approach. When more power is given to protect our society, more monitoring of that power is also needed. It is not complicated.

We must not allow any opportunities for serious mistakes to be made. It is as simple as that.

Everyone knows that we need concrete measures that protect Canadians. However, we must not bring in such measures at the expense of our liberties and our way of life. With these kinds of bills, we must always find a way to strike a balance.

I find it unfortunate that the Conservatives wanted to play partisan politics with this bill instead of acting in the best interests of Canada, because fundamentally, this is one of those bills that leaves a mark on society forever.

When this kind of bill is introduced, it needs to be properly drafted and flawless. As some experts said, this bill may be struck down by the Supreme Court. Just think of all the time we will have wasted. It is unacceptable.

We need to keep Canadians safe, while at the same time protecting their civil liberties. It is not so complicated. Right now, according to most of the witnesses we heard in committee, that is not what this bill does.

Many people said that Daesh wanted to attack our way of life. One of the pillars of our way of life is the protection of civil liberties. This bill is an indirect attack on that important pillar, and that is just not good.

In our opinion, an anti-terrorism approach means tighter control over security agencies and the allocation of appropriate resources so that we can be sure that we can carefully monitor how these new powers are exercised both for the agencies and for Canadians. It is just a safeguard to ensure that everything is done right and that the power is exercised in accordance with the will of Canadians and the House. It does not go any further than that.

We understand that there is a need to exchange information between the various departments, but there again, there are shortcomings with regard to how to control and define the parameters of those information exchanges in order to ensure that not too much information is being shared. It is not complicated.

Furthermore, there is nothing about prevention. What is prevention? We have heard a lot about it in the context of preventing radicalization, the spiral of violence that the world seems to be caught up in these days. We have not talked very much about integration. The government is not trying to understand how it is that new converts are quickly picking up and leaving, for example. This bill does not address those problems.

When I say that, I am obviously thinking about France, for example, which introduced a bill on March 19. I invite the government to look at what France did because it has a balanced approach. France is not only considering security but also respect for rights and freedoms. That is very important.

However, if we look at the budget on this issue, all we see are so-called repression measures. If I were to read all of the headings in Chapter 4.3 of the budget, members would see that protection, prevention and combatting radicalization are not mentioned anywhere.

In closing, the more Canadians learn about this bill, the more they are opposed to it. That is clear.

The government tried to rush this bill through but was unable to put one over on people. We need balanced legislation that will not increase violence in our society or anywhere else.

Once again, I have to wonder what happened to reason in this bill.

Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

1:15 p.m.


Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have some very sad news. Police forces in Quebec intercepted and imprisoned members of the Hells Angels. Unfortunately, this government managed to let them go because it was unable to try their cases within two years. They were let go by the justice system.

Now, with this wonderful bill, we have to wonder what is the use of a law that takes away our rights and freedoms if criminals and terrorists can slip through because police officers, judges and prosecutors are in short supply?

Can my distinguished colleague explain the Conservative logic that takes away our rights but offers no guarantee whatsoever that terrorists will be sentenced by the justice system?

Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

1:15 p.m.


Denis Blanchette NDP Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

I talked about the balance between rights and the protection of privacy and civil liberties. Of course, there also has to be a balance between what a law sets out to do and the means to do it.

How many times during this Parliament have we seen stricter laws against certain crimes that were not accompanied by the necessary resources? Consider prisons, where there was not enough room for more prisoners. The provinces were forced to pay for that.

As for the bill before us, unfortunately the government did not think the whole problem through. It acted on impulse without taking the time to reflect on everything that such a law entails.

Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

1:15 p.m.


Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague's speech.

He talked about the lack of resources, but even having enough resources does not necessarily translate into the ability to keep everything under control.

The Conservative government uses the example of the attack in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, where a young man with mental health problems indoctrinated himself. He was not indoctrinated from the outside, by Syria or Iraq. Since he did not speak Arabic, he was unable to establish contact with the Islamic State in Iraq or Syria. He indoctrinated himself and slipped through the hands of the RCMP. He was assessed by the RCMP, which came to the conclusion that he was no longer a danger to society. The RCMP released him and gave him back his passport. In a moment of madness, he killed an innocent soldier.

I would like my colleague to explain how even when we have all the information and even when the information is in the hands of the RCMP, we cannot foresee everything because there is the matter of mental health, which we cannot control.

Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

1:15 p.m.


Denis Blanchette NDP Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for that very important question, which raises a specific problem that we have rarely talked about during this debate, and that is looking at the problem as a whole.

People may have bad intentions, and we must prevent them from acting on those intentions. We must provide resources to prevent them from taking action, but that is not all. We have talked at length about preventing radicalization. Other types of resources are needed in order to be able to assess and correct certain problems.

I come back to what is happening in France. Under its new legislation, France is investing an additional 60 million euros in preventing radicalization. It is aware that we cannot focus on law enforcement alone and provide resources to law enforcement. We must also address the root of the problem, and that is what my colleague brilliantly raised.

Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

1:20 p.m.


Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, today I rise again to voice my opposition to Bill C-51 in its current form.

Each one of us knows terrorism is a real threat and we are all committed to keeping Canadians safe. However, Bill C-51 remains a reckless, dangerously vague and likely ineffective piece of proposed legislation. It would not do things that are proven to work and it puts politics ahead of protecting Canadians.

The members of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security heard testimony from a range of experts. Many of these experts raised serious concerns about provisions in Bill C-51. The government also received amendments from the official opposition New Democrats and other parties. The government rejected the substance of these amendments. The government did make four amendments to the bill. Unfortunately, these amendments would do little to address the major concerns Canadians and experts have consistently raised about this bill.

Therefore, I stand proudly with my New Democrat colleagues as we continue to stand for privacy, national security, oversight and our civil liberties, while working to make our country safe from terrorism by advocating an evidence-based approach to anti-terrorism legislation.

In regard to privacy, 12 Canadian privacy commissioners have publicly criticized Bill C-51, but not one privacy commissioner was invited to appear before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. These are the public authorities on privacy and should have been heard. In a written submission to the committee, Daniel Therrien, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, wrote:

However, the scale of information sharing being proposed [by Bill C-51] is unprecedented, the scope of the new powers conferred by the Act is excessive, particularly as these powers affect ordinary Canadians, and the safeguards protecting against unreasonable loss of privacy are seriously deficient. While the potential to know virtually everything about everyone may well identify some new threats, the loss of privacy is clearly excessive. All Canadians would be caught in this web.

Under the proposed legislation, law-abiding citizens could find their information shared by federal departments and agencies with intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Furthermore, the Privacy Commissioner stated that Bill C-51 does not prescribe clear and reasonable standards for the sharing, collection, use and retention of personal information. Canadians have a legitimate right to privacy.

How can the government be so reckless with the personal information of Canadians? How can it allow the sharing of information without proper oversight and clear standards regarding the necessity for the sharing of this information? Furthermore, experts such as Craig Forcese have pointed out that Bill C-51 also would erode the individual's right to legal recourse. Under Bill C-51, as long as Canadian government officials share information in good faith, if people are tortured or their livelihoods lost, these individuals could not sue the Canadian government.

We were shocked and saddened by the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was tortured in Syria because of the information that was shared about him. Maher Arar was able to use legal recourse to get an apology and compensation from the government. If Bill C-51 becomes law, if anything like what happened to Maher Arar happened in the future, there would be no legal recourse for Canadians. As a nation, we should be ensuring that what happened to Maher Arar never happens again to another Canadian. We need to do that by ensuring there is oversight, and that the rights of our citizens are protected. We should not be allowing information to be shared with a little oversight and then stripping away the ways in which Canadians can hold their government accountable.

As I have stated in prior remarks, I am also concerned about the potential impacts of Bill C-51 on Canadians' freedom of speech and the right to protest. One of the four amendments that the government members accepted at committee stage changed the language to say that activity that undermines the security of Canada does not include advocacy, protest, dissent or artistic expression. However, any act that blocks infrastructure could be subject to disruption and covered as part of this anti-terrorism legislation.

In 2009, before I became a member of Parliament, many members of the Tamil community and other human rights activists were out on the streets trying to raise awareness about innocent people being killed in Sri Lanka. Each day in Ottawa, Toronto, and other cities across the country, people were engaging in lawful protest asking for the Canadian government to listen and take action.

On May 10, 2009, some of the protestors blockaded the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto. According to our experts, under Bill C-51, the blockade of the Gardiner Expressway could have been considered an activity that undermines the security of Canada, classified as blocking infrastructure and covered under this anti-terrorism legislation. On May 10, 2009, people blockaded the Gardiner Expressway to bring attention to people being displaced and killed senselessly in Sri Lanka. Should these people, seniors, children and families, who blockaded the Gardiner Expressway be called terrorists and subjected to additional surveillance? Is that fair?

In January 2013, six youths and a guide left on snowshoes on a walk to Ottawa in support of the Idle No More movement. They called their trek the Journey of the Nishiyuu, which means the “journey of the people” in Cree. In the final hours of the trek, the group numbered nearly 400 people, as other children and youth from Cree and Algonquin communities joined them along the way. I remember being one of the thousands more who joined them here on Parliament Hill as their journey came to an end. As people joined the trek, perhaps streets were blocked and traffic snarled. Should these youth be called terrorists and subject to additional surveillance?

We must make sure that the voices of people can be heard. We must make sure that dissent and protest are protected in our country. We must allow for the freedom of speech to remain a charter-protected right in our country. We cannot allow non-violent acts to be called terrorism, because they are not terrorism. They are non-violent acts that can help build our civic infrastructure and can result in positive changes in policies.

This omnibus bill is 62 pages long and its scope is unprecedented. I could continue to talk for a lot longer about the many ways in which the bill threatens the civil liberties we hold dear, but I think the point has been made, and I am sure I am running out of time. This bill remains reckless, vague, and likely ineffective.

What are some proven approaches to combat terrorism that are more likely to be effective? I will name a few from what the experts have cited.

The first is to provide appropriate resources for security and intelligence agencies to track and identify threats to public security. Former Ottawa police chief and current Senator Vern White said:

My biggest concern right now is, do we have the resources to focus energy on [radicalized] people out there that are concerning us? I’m not convinced we have those resources.

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson testified before the Senate that he has reallocated resources including hundreds of personnel from areas such as organized crime to counter terrorism. Why would the police not have adequate resources to fight terror? Organized crime also presents a public safety threat to Canada, so why is the RCMP being forced to make these reallocations? We know that between 2009 and 2014, annual RCMP spending decreased by $420 million, and between 2012 and 2014, 2,271 full-time equivalent positions were cut from the RCMP. In 2012-13, CSIS spending was cut by $44 million.

A second proven approach to combat terrorism that is more likely to be effective is oversight. Over the past five years, oversight mechanisms that are meant to hold the security and intelligence agencies accountable have faced cuts, and positions have been left vacant. Now Bill C-51 would further expand surveillance and the capacity to detain people, but does not expand oversight. Oversight could mean more diligence on the part of the security agents themselves, knowing that oversight bodies are in place.

A third measure is counter-radicalization programs. Working with at-risk communities and connecting with community and faith leaders to provide resources to defuse radicalization in integral parts of our communities is an integral part of proven anti-terror programs.

I know I am running out of time, so I just want to say that today I am proud to be standing with my New Democrat colleagues as we take our responsibility to stand up for Canada seriously. We are disappointed, though, that the third party Liberals seem to believe that supporting this bill and giving the Conservatives a blank cheque is the best way to protect Canadian freedoms. I am proud that the New Democrats are taking a principled stance and not supporting Bill C-51. We will continue to defend both our rights and our freedoms in this country.

Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

1:30 p.m.


Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for Scarborough—Rouge River for her excellent speech.

The member pointed out that actions taken by Canadians of Tamil origin have in fact been successful in changing Canadian attitudes towards a certain government that was perhaps not as kind to its citizens as it ought to have been. Those Canadian attitudes having been changed has changed world attitudes, and it started, in part, with a protest that blocked part of a major artery through the city of Toronto. However, the current government would make that kind of protest illegal and thereby prevent such an amazing display by an amazing bunch of young and determined individuals in the city of Toronto.

I wonder if the member would like to comment further.

Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

1:30 p.m.


Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for York South—Weston for his passion and sincerity in knowing what happened to the Tamil people.

I remember that this was a youth-led, legal protest that happened across the country, specifically in Toronto, where young people, seniors, children, human rights activists from all parts of the world and Tamils living in Toronto were on the streets for two weeks every day. It seemed like their cries for help and support, and for the current government to do something, fell on deaf ears. Out of pure frustration, the people decided to walk up the Gardiner Expressway and blockade it. They got attention. They finally got the people and the government to listen.

However, under Bill C-51, that activity would be classified as an act of terror. We would see hundreds of thousands of children, seniors and families classified as terrorists in this country, and that just does not make any sense.

Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

St. Catharines Ontario


Rick Dykstra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, I just want to note that the accusation level in the speech is actually completely false and untrue. Not only would the bill in and of itself not put someone who is participating in a legal and lawful protest in a position to continue to do that, but we actually clarified through amendment to the bill to give greater clarity to that exact expression in terms of the ability to protest in a lawful and peaceful way.

For the member to use an example of a protest and somehow try to twist it into something it is not is unfair and it is actually wrong. This should not be brought up in the House in a way that speaks to something that is false as if it were true. Just because one says it again and again does not actually make it true.

I would like to get the acknowledgement from the member on the protest she has indicated, whether or not she has actually checked the legal definition and whether she has actually sought to ensure it by subbing in at committee and asking that very question or making the very comment that she has. It is very clear in the legislation. There is even more clarity by the fact that an amendment was brought forward to deal with this specific issue.

I know that the leader of the Green Party accepts the clarification. I would hope the member would as well.

Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

1:35 p.m.


Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the parliamentary secretary for giving me this opportunity to remind him, through his own words, that just repeating falsehoods does not make them true. Every member of the Conservative Party and the current government should learn from the words of the parliamentary secretary, that repeating falsehoods never makes them true.

However, I will give the member an expert opinion, because, of course, we like to consider the opinions of lawyers and those who know the law better than probably most of us in this place.

Yes, the parliamentary secretary is correct in the sense that government members only accepted four amendments, and these are amendments that came from themselves. The only change that happened on the piece that he spoke of is a change from the words “legal protest” to “protest”.

However, the piece that remained, that I mentioned in my speech, and maybe he missed it, is that any acts that block infrastructure could be subject to disruption and covered as part of this anti-terror legislation. That is the truth. It is not a falsehood, it has been clarified by many experts, and that is what I speak of.

Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

1:35 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before we resume debate, I will let the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage know there are about three minutes remaining in the time allocated for government orders today. We will of course have his remaining time when the House next resumes debate on the question.

Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

St. Catharines Ontario


Rick Dykstra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, it is certainly a privilege to invite all members of the House to support Bill C-51, the anti-terrorism act, 2015.

The safety and security of Canada, and Canadians, is being threatened. The international jihadi movement has declared war on Canada. ISIL has named Canada as a target. We have seen its supporters urge their comrades to kill Canadians by any means and at every opportunity. Al Shabaab is urging its followers to attack targets right here in our country. We know these are not idle threats. We have seen the horrific and deadly attacks on innocent people in Paris and Sydney, and elsewhere in the world, including the cold-blooded murders in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and at our National War Memorial.

It is unfortunate and difficult to accept, but we see a concerning number of Canadians travelling to other countries to join and fight alongside terrorists from Syria to Somalia. Even more worrisome, we know that some of these radicalized Canadians have returned to this country, burning with hatred, and often with military training and combat experience.

Their values may seem medieval, and talk about an earlier time in history, but they show no reluctance to embrace technology to communicate, to terrorize, to recruit and raise funds. The threat is more complex, more insidious and more dangerous than could have been anticipated even a few years ago.

We must ensure that our security and intelligence organizations have the tools to meet this threat. To do otherwise would be to abandon our most fundamental responsibility to Canadians. That is why we must move swiftly to pass this bill. It is essential to assuring the safety and security of Canadians.

As we have heard, the anti-terrorism act, 2015 has a number of elements. I hope to get through the first one, and then re-engage on this when we return.

First, it would create the security of Canada information sharing act. Departments and agencies of the Government of Canada collect information of various kinds on a daily basis. In some instances, this information may be of considerable value to the institutions charged with identifying and responding to threats to the security of this country or its allies. Yet we have no tangible, focused or reliable way to ensure that kind of information gets to the agencies in a timely way.

I am certain many Canadians would be surprised to learn, for example, that when citizenship and immigration receives a passport application that raises security flags, it is prohibited by law from sharing that information with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

I will leave it that and return to the discussion when the time is allocated to do so.

Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015Government Orders

1:40 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. parliamentary secretary will have seven minutes remaining in his time for comments on the question and of course the usual five minutes for questions and comments thereafter.

It being 1:40 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from February 20 consideration of the motion that Bill C-640, An Act respecting VIA Rail Canada and making consequential amendments to the Canada Transportation Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

VIA Rail Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.


Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to discuss Bill C-640, an act respecting VIA Rail Canada and making consequential amendments to the Canada Transportation Act. The government remains committed to ensuring economic growth and long-term prosperity for Canadians. Given this focus, the government cannot support Bill C-640, because it would have a negative impact on Canada's economic competitiveness and risk its reputation as a reliable trading partner.

To illustrate the potentially negative implications of this bill, I would like to first highlight the important role that freight rail plays in Canada. For more than 130 years, railways have linked communities, supported trade and expanded the Canadian economy. The historic role of railways in our country's growth since Confederation is well known.

The importance of freight railways has only increased today. Canada's freight railway sector, which comprises more than 60 short lines and two class 1 railways, Canadian National and Canadian Pacific, operates nearly 46,000 kilometres of track. Canadian businesses, producers and manufacturers rely on this expansive rail network every day to move a whole wide variety of goods to thousands of domestic and global destinations.

It is also worth noting that a substantial portion of rail movements contribute to our domestic and international trade. Clearly, the success of Canadian businesses is contingent on efficient, effective and reliable freight rail services. Grain farmers work hard to supply global markets with a world-class product. Lumber, pulp and paper, and other forest products from Canadian mills have a global reputation for being second to none in terms of quality. Demand for these products is increasing around the world. Global buyers in emerging economies are seeking high quality iron ore, coal and other commodities extracted from mines located across Canada.

Canada's manufacturing industries, including the automotive sector, continue to demonstrate strength and resilience in increasingly competitive global markets and integrated supply chains. However, success in all industrial sectors requires reliable and efficient freight rail service. Shippers would face broken sales contracts, declining market share and irreparable harm to their reputation as reliable global suppliers if they could not get their goods to market reliably and efficiently.

The government has taken important steps to ensure the efficiency, effectiveness and reliability of the rail-based supply chain. In 2010, the government initiated the rail freight service review. In 2013, the government passed the Fair Rail Freight Service Act, which aimed to support commercial solutions by providing shippers with the right to request a service level agreement, and a process to establish one if commercial negotiations fail.

Less than a year ago, the government passed the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act. which included additional measures designed to support the entire grain transportation system and achieve the goal of moving grain more efficiently and quickly. For example, the act required railways to move minimum amounts of grain; extended interswitching limits for shippers in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba; and clarified operational terms in service level agreements. In combination, these efforts have contributed to a strong, dynamic freight rail network in Canada that is recognized around the world for its ability to move diverse commodities over vast distances.

A cornerstone of the development of Canada's transportation system is a policy approach that supports competition in market forces. Specifically, the national transportation policy outlined in the Canada Transportation Act indicates that the objectives of a competitive, economic and efficient transportation system are most likely to be achieved when competition and market forces are the prime agents in providing transportation services. Furthermore, it states that regulation and strategic public intervention should not unduly favour any particular mode of transportation.

What would happen to this critical rail transportation system if Bill C-640 were to be passed? Provisions in the bill would undermine the government's recent efforts to strengthen Canada's rail-based supply chain and would also run counter to foundational policy principles by undermining commercial solutions and unduly favouring one type of rail transportation over another.

Specifically, Bill C-640 proposes amending the Canada Transportation Act to give VIA general scheduling and operational preference over freight rail in the event of conflict. Let me be clear on what this proposal intends to do. Essentially, this amendment would give unfettered primacy to passenger rail operations at the expense of freight rail efficiency.

Currently, VIA and freight railways negotiate commercial agreements for track access that allow parties to work together to find an operational arrangement that works for everyone involved. This approach recognizes that the best solutions are those negotiated by the parties themselves.

If commercial negotiations are unsuccessful, the Canada Transportation Act provides VIA and other public passenger service providers with recourse to the Canadian Transportation Agency to secure access to track, equipment, or other facilities. This dispute resolution mechanism balances the interests of communities, consumers, and public passenger service providers with those of freight rail carriers.

I want to emphasize today that passenger rail service in many parts of Canada needs to be enhanced to meet community needs. My constituency of Sarnia—Lambton is a good example of this. Due to lack of ridership, passenger rail service provided by VIA Rail has been cut back in my community over the past few years, causing issues for students, the elderly, and others who utilize this travel option. I have worked hard to advocate on the need for these services for my constituents to decision-makers at VIA Rail and in cabinet.

I also want to give credit and recognition to a local group of individuals who have worked tirelessly to improve passenger rail service for local residents. Rail Advocacy in Lambton, or RAIL, as it is more commonly known, has accomplished numerous achievements in its advocacy efforts through a broad, community-driven consultation process and through working in a co-operative fashion with VIA Rail Canada. This group has presented various solutions that may work well for my community, and as mentioned, it has had success with its efforts thus far, as a recent meeting with VIA Rail Canada ended with a promise by VIA officials to visit Sarnia-Lambton and to seek to enhance the passenger rail options for my riding.

I support RAIL in its efforts and will continue to do so, because it is seeking proactive solutions, but not at the expense of one mode of service over another. It understands that any viable solution to the transit issues facing the region will require a holistic, integrated approach, likely requiring the attention of the three levels of government involved: federal, provincial and municipal.

Its solutions do not place freight above passenger rail. Rather, they include both aspects of the rail industry in the discussion, as both sides' co-operation is indeed required for a positive solution to be reached with regard to passenger rail enhancement across the region. These are solutions that do not require the hardships Bill C-640 would create. By this I mean that Bill C-640 proposes amendments that would be in stark opposition to long-established commercial principles, such as ensuring modal neutrality and balancing the interests of the parties involved.

Ultimately, the changes proposed in Bill C-640 would greatly impact a railway's ability to operate its network, leading to inefficiencies and reduced reliability. This would have a corresponding negative impact on shippers' ability to get their goods to market, thereby risking their global reputations as reliable suppliers, reputations they work hard every day to achieve and sustain. It would also move away from a proactive solution that needs to involve both freight and passenger rail entities.

In closing, I would like to reiterate that Canada's economy cannot risk the reckless approach proposed in Bill C-640. Canadian shippers work hard to grow their businesses and realize global economic opportunities. Bill C-640 would ultimately undermine this hard work, risk shippers' global reputations as reliable suppliers, and harm the overall competitiveness of the Canadian economy. For that reason, the government cannot support Bill C-640.

VIA Rail Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.


Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-640, An Act respecting VIA Rail Canada and making consequential amendments to the Canada Transportation Act.

I would first like to commend my colleague from Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine for his excellent work. He has worked very hard on this file. He wanted to bring this issue to the forefront in Parliament. We have been trying to pass these vital measures in this Parliament for about 20 years. The member has done excellent work by proposing these very important changes.

I would first like to comment on why this bill is so important. Many Canadians across the country must use the services of VIA Rail, and the NDP believes that Canadians deserve rail services that are shared, adequate, safe and efficient. We know that most MPs have used VIA Rail services. We know just how essential this service is, but we also know that there is a great deal of room for improvement.

It is time for Canadian passengers to have priority over freight, as is the case in the United States. Later, I will talk about Amtrak, which Canada could really look to for best practices.

My colleague also introduced this bill because we believe that VIA Rail has a duty to provide a minimum level of service and that it should not cancel routes without consulting the public and Parliament. This bill has a number of measures and I will talk about a few of them. This bill essentially provides a legislative framework for VIA Rail's mandate. It requires VIA Rail to maintain service and to maintain the frequency of certain routes that must be served. Later, I will also talk about some essential routes that have been abandoned by VIA Rail in recent years.

The bill also provides for a transparent and democratic assessment mechanism if VIA Rail wishes to cancel service. It provides a framework for VIA Rail governance and funding. We know that these two priorities are important if we want VIA Rail services to work. This bill ensures that municipal representatives have a say in VIA Rail services.

The bill also gives priority to passenger trains over freight trains. It imposes fines on rail companies for failing to comply with regulations that favour VIA Rail. It demands transparency with respect to the fees paid by VIA Rail to rail companies. Lastly, if VIA Rail wishes to cancel service, it must first seek approval from Parliament.

I would like to digress for a moment to also talk about Canada Post. We know that this topic has been debated in the House and there is a lot of talk about it in my riding of Rivière-des-Mille-Îles. The people of Rosemère have already lost their home mail delivery and people in Boisbriand will lose it this year. Of course they oppose this reduction in service, but we know that the Conservatives' approach, which involves cutting services and increasing prices, is not the right way to run a business. That is not the right thing to do to ensure that Canada Post remains a profitable business.

The government keeps repeating that people are sending fewer letters, for one thing. That may be true, but they are sending more parcels, they are doing more online shopping and they still receive bills by mail. Furthermore, municipalities still need to send their correspondence related to municipal taxes to their residents by mail. The reduction in Canada Post services is affecting a large segment of the population, as well as municipal budgets, which are already very tight.

I mention Canada Post because, similarly, it is not by reducing VIA Rail's services or access to it that the crown corporation will become more profitable.

Since 2011, VIA Rail has dropped major routes. The Victoria-Kootenay line was dropped in 2011. In December 2012, VIA Rail also stopped its passenger service on the Matapédia-Gaspé line, despite the fact that a major part of that line is now safe.

In 2012, VIA Rail announced that it was reducing its Ocean train service between Montreal and Halifax. I would like to mention that a number of my colleagues here in the House defended that train service and travelled from one end of the country to the other to mobilize people in order to protect VIA Rail services. I am talking about the hon. member for Halifax and other NDP members from the Maritimes. Following the derailment of a freight train in June 2014, VIA Rail stopped operating the Winnipeg-Churchill line indefinitely.

It is important to talk about these lines because Canada is a very diverse country and remote municipalities do not have the same needs as major urban centres. VIA Rail's service is very important to these remote regions.

Passenger rail service in remote areas is in free fall. Furthermore, in more urban areas, freight trains cause significant delays in passenger service. This is very inconvenient for people who use these services.

Basically, the bill supports the concept that management of passenger rail service must comply with section 5 of the Canada Transportation Act and section 5 of the Federal Sustainable Development Act, especially when it comes to the principles of accessibility, economic growth of urban and rural communities and sustainable development.

When I was researching this bill, I looked at Amtrak, a U.S. passenger train company. Amtrak, which serves our neighbours to the south, decided to increase frequency rather than reduce it, as a result of a study that showed that decreasing the frequency of passenger trains does not result in significant savings.

Quite the opposite is happening in Canada. In the case of the Halifax-Moncton-Montreal train, there was a reduction of almost 40% in ridership in 2012, while there was only a $1 million savings in fuel and operating costs.

Furthermore, the increased frequency of Amtrak trains in the United States has resulted in a significant increase in ridership and revenue.

I would like to comment further on the case of Canada Post. We know that if there is good management, more service and some guarantee of quality service, people will use the services available and the number of users will grow. Cutting services will not make an organization profitable. There are some interesting comparisons to be made with the case of VIA Rail.

We want VIA Rail to have a clear mandate to provide safe, adequate, efficient service. During question period in the House, NDP members have often called for VIA Rail to reinstate all of the routes that have been cancelled since 2011. We also want all changes to its network to be subject to public consultation and debated in Parliament. This is an important issue, particularly for my NDP colleagues who live in areas served by VIA Rail.

For example, the member for Churchill knows her community's needs. She is in an ideal position to understand the impact of service cuts at VIA Rail on her community and the ability of her constituents to travel and be mobile.

I see that my time is up, so I would like to conclude by inviting all of my colleagues to support a wonderful bill, Bill C-640.

VIA Rail Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am please to have the opportunity to speak to private member's bill C-640, an act respecting VIA Rail Canada and making consequential amendments to the Canada Transportation Act.

An intercity passenger rail service with VIA Rail as the predominant service provider is an important component of our transportation system. VIA benefits our economy and society by connecting Canadians from coast to coast. Recognizing this, our government has and continues to support VIA Rail.

Our government provides VIA Rail with substantial financial support to operate and maintain its network. VIA was given a subsidy amounting to $305 million in 2013-14, a significant amount of funding. In addition, our government is making unprecedented capital investments in VIA Rail to allow it to make important improvements to modernize its operations.

Our government has made available more than $1 billion in capital funding over the past seven years to upgrade and modernize portions of VIA Rail's network and many of its rail cars and locomotives.

However, despite our government's demonstrated support for VIA, we cannot support the bill. The bill would introduce legislation that would not only increase these costs, but would fundamentally alter, for the worst, how the corporation would be operated and managed.

VIA Rail is a federal crown corporation. Like all corporations, both private and public, VIA is governed by a board of directors that is responsible for all decisions the corporation takes. Our government has made efforts to strengthen governance practices in crown corporations and agencies by setting guidelines and best practices for board membership and operation. These best practices include seeking candidates with a range of experience drawn from both public and private sectors. To this end, VIA's board of directors is made up of qualified citizens who represent the diversity of Canada. There are currently members from many regions of the country, with each member bringing their unique skills, experience and perspective to the board.

The bill proposes to limit the pool of potential candidates for selection as VIA board members to only those candidates who are already members of the Canadian Tourism Commission and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. This is curious logic, as by unduly limiting potential candidates for the VIA board, the bill works against these best governance practices.

Furthermore, as VIA board members have the responsibility to act in the best interests of the corporation and exercise due care and diligence, the proposal in the bill would put VIA directors in a real or perceived conflict of interest with their obligation as directors of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Canadian Tourism Commission.

The bill also promotes the addition of significant financial risk to the government by moving VIA Rail from its current non-agent structure to that of an agent of the Crown. Our government cannot support this proposal as being an agent of the Crown would increase the government's financial risk by exposing the government directly to all VIA's debts, losses and liabilities.

Bill C-640 would further add to the financial risk to the government by providing VIA with borrowing power. The proposed bill allows the corporation to borrow, issue or pledge debt on the credit of the corporation. It also allows the Ministers of Transport and Finance, in co-operation with the Governor-in-Council, to authorize VIA to borrow up to an aggregated total of $500 million from the consolidated revenue fund. Ultimately, however, the government would have to backstop these financial commitments.

Furthermore, the bill proposes to change the share structure to provide employees with a 10% ownership in VIA. This makes no economic sense, given VIA's reliance on federal subsidies to operate. Typical of most scheduled, intercity passenger rail carriers around the world, VIA has no market value as its debts and liabilities far outweigh its assets. With little prospect for share value appreciation, the granting of non-market traded shares as performance incentives to employees would likely be an ineffective and inappropriate use of taxpayers money.

The bill also attempts to define a new mandate and objectives for VIA. In fact, it makes many of VIA's objectives inflexible and removes VIA's ability to seek an optimal balance between its objectives. On the one hand, the proposed legislation mandates the current root structure, while on the other hand, it requires VIA to maximize its financial performance. In other words, the bill ties VIA's hands and sets it up for failure.

Our government believes that VIA operates most efficiently as an independent crown corporation. This means the government does not operate the railway. This means the government does not get involved in VIA's day-to-day operations. This means the government does not try to tell VIA how many times per day it should operate its services.

It does not mean our government provides VIA with the necessary resources and funding needed to achieve its plans. This process has been clearly evident in recent years, with our government providing significant capital infusions and increased operating funding to allow VIA to build extra capacity, replace equipment and align the delivery of its services with planned resources.

Our government believes the current method of approving VIA's direction through annual corporate plans is the best approach. Currently, VIA's object is:

To offer a national passenger rail transportation service that is safe, secure, efficient, reliable, and environmentally sustainable, and that meets the needs of travellers in Canada.

Overall, this approach provides the necessary flexibility in service delivery to Canada's passenger rail service.

Although passenger rail remains an important service, particularly in remote areas and to support tourism across Canada and along the Quebec-Windsor corridor, it is no longer a predominant mode of transportation in Canada. Travel by private car remains the overwhelming choice for most intercity travellers.

VIA Rail is ultimately responsible for making business decision on its operations, including how best to lower its cost to reduce its reliance on federal taxpayer dollars, while meeting its objective to operate a national railway system that is safe and efficient. This is why VIA rail has to continuously assess its markets and operations to decide how best to provide the most economically efficient service to passengers.

The bill would make the process for determining the optimal mix of routes and fleet resources more difficult to achieve and delay VIA from proactively reacting to changes in its marketplace. It would take away this essential flexibility for VIA, resulting in poorer financial performance and governance processes that would not align with best practices for crown corporation governance. It bill would result in higher borrowing, insurance and risk management, costs for VIA. The bill would also result in higher costs and risk exposure for the Government of Canada.

Our government will not support Bill C-640.

VIA Rail Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.


Lise St-Denis Liberal Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, the slow erosion of the passenger rail system in Canada is relentless. In Haute-Mauricie, cuts are being made to services for aboriginal people, services for those who travel to receive medical care, services for the many tourists and vacationers, and interregional services. We are facing an organized dismantling of rail transportation in order to decrease service delivery in remote regions. If the government wants to shut down the towns and villages in the regions, there is no better way to go about it.

We no longer see trains passing by. Our train stations are becoming museums in memory of our investments of yesterday in areas abandoned by government. Nevertheless, it is rather ironic to hear the Prime Minister boast about the advantages of occupying the areas adjacent to the Northwest Passage in response to thirsty nations' claims on our Arctic regions, when meanwhile the current government is abandoning our regions by closing the railway lines that forged our national and territorial identity.

How far will the destruction of our symbols and our infrastructure go? You have to be familiar with the regions to see the problems caused by the elimination of train service, and it seems fairly obvious that the executives at the head office have never set foot out of the Toronto or Montreal stations. The cuts made to the passenger rail system should not have an impact on local economies. Were they expecting the Holy Spirit to provide service to remote regions?

Despite the wishful thinking of VIA Rail executives and their obvious lack of sensitivity to rural populations, people are suffering from these haphazard cuts. They are selling stations for a dollar, abandoning one-hundred-year-old services, liquidating our heritage to the lowest bidder, replacing station agents with self-service kiosks—and you can forget it if you are not paying with plastic.

The bill introduced by the member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine partially meets the expectations of local populations. Is it realistic to put restrictions on VIA Rail to give passenger service priority over commercial or industrial service? We are aware of the limits of such a measure, in light of who owns the railways in Canada. It seems to us that, in this context, the lack of a national strategy for passenger transportation will be a crucial consideration in developing new criteria and controls for VIA Rail.

Little by little, the train has become the means of transportation for urban dwellers, to the detriment of people living in the regions. We are one of the industrialized societies that invests the least in public transit. The dismantling of VIA Rail and its regional services was done without consultation. Changes in rates, schedules and the number of destinations are determined by bureaucrats who happily sacrifice regional development without listening to users' complaints.

How can we get VIA Rail back on track? How can we make the current government realize what is happening in the regions? We understand the gist of the member's bill. We can see the complete indifference of VIA Rail executives towards people in the regions. However, how can we compel this crown corporation and private rail companies without having a national rail transportation policy?

The number and scope of rail disasters should have prompted the minister to develop a serious rail policy. We are still waiting for the improvisation to stop.

We must conduct a comprehensive study of the negative effects of the cuts to passenger rail service in order to align those findings with the modernization of freight transportation.

The government is proposing that penalties be imposed on recalcitrant carriers as the ultimate fix for these carriers' possible mismanagement. The many planned restrictions with regard to services and the prioritization of passenger transportation are not realistic because passenger transportation is not as profitable as freight transportation.

Any passenger rail policy that is developed must align with the development of freight transportation. The co-existence of the two systems requires an assessment of the risks inherent in their respective areas of expertise, which are disproportionate. The prosperity of one must benefit the other.

Regional development, which relies on many industrial bases, is related to the needs of local populations. We cannot hope to earn a profit from our resources without giving small communities sustainable infrastructure.

For many, the end of VIA Rail means the end of many communities. Every generation must reinvent its prosperity. The same is true of the role of this passenger rail stakeholder.

For the time being, we are not assessing the magnitude of the social disaster caused by the disappearance of passenger rail service. We have not assessed the social costs of this disappearance. We believe, as does the member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, that VIA Rail must be forced to provide services to remote regions. We believe that the current level of service is lacking. We are disappointed about the lack of regard for passenger safety on a number of lines of this so-called national carrier.

VIA Rail has a critical role to play as a passenger carrier in Canada, but resources are lacking as a result of the lack of interest shown by governments. In addition to imposing a new legal framework on the carrier, we must finally develop a real Canadian passenger and freight transportation policy.

The topic of land use must not be limited to the throne speech. We need to make our historical presence in the north and south a national priority. The almost total lack of rail service in the regions is a daily struggle. The local populations have been abandoned and must reluctantly leave their homes.

We believe that the thought process initiated by the member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine is the first step toward the creation of a national inclusive transportation policy. The introduction of Bill C-640 enables us to begin a debate on the role of public services in Canada. This bill sets out responsibilities that are consistent with the historic role of parliamentarians in this place. We need to be able to debate the people's needs and report on the progress and setbacks in this domain.

This bill decrees rules of precedence and shared use for the crown corporation and private companies, rules that we have to take a close look at while considering the costs arising from such a policy.

However, private companies do not operate in a vacuum and must be accountable to civil society, particularly with respect to safety and the common good.

VIA Rail Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.


Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise in the House today to support Bill C-640, the work of my colleague, the member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine. He follows in a great tradition of rail advocacy by the NDP. I would be remiss if I neglected to mention Bill Blaikie, who along with his many principled contributions to the House as the member for Elmwood—Transcona and deputy speaker was and remains a fierce defender and advocate of preserving, diversifying, and expanding rail infrastructure in our great country.

Bill C-640 is an effort to turn the tide on the steady erosion of rail travel that began with the Liberals' deregulation of the industry and the privatization of the Canadian National Railway system in 1995.

Bill C-640 seeks to prevent VIA from cancelling routes and passenger service without consulting with Canadians and with Parliament. Canadians have the right to the highest levels of service, protection, and accessibility of travel that can be provided. Instead we have seen the erosion of infrastructure due to neglect and corporate offloading and the cancellation of services across the country.

Canada has a growing population comprising families with children, seniors, and citizens who need to travel and are very conscious of the environmental legacy we are creating for future generations.

With proper stewardship and a visionary plan, there is real potential to revive our once thriving rail travel industry. However, that kind of vision requires a federal government focused on national stewardship rather than what both Liberal and Conservative governments did when they sold off national interests and pandered to those who bankroll their campaigns. Even worse, this current Conservative government, as did previous Liberal governments, refuses to acknowledge that the economic and environmental benefits of a truly enhanced, integrated, accessible, and sustainable rail transit system far outweigh and outlive short-term political gain. It fails to understand that everyone, from the youngest Canadian to the seasoned commuter, benefits from the kind of forward thinking that ensures that rail travel is part of our future.

This reality is not lost on the citizens of London and southwestern Ontario. These are the Canadians who suffer from what is described in the Network Southwest action plan as a mobility gap. VIA Rail needs substantial modernization and service improvements to prevent a further decline in ridership. Investment and modernization would permit the enhancement and strengthening of rail service for future generations.

We have to be forward thinking. Rail travel is cost-effective in terms of the pocketbook and the environment. While high-speed rail is a longer-term vision, high-performance rail is able to operate on many existing main and secondary routes. High-performance rail is part of an interconnected alternative public transit system, and it provides infrastructure to feed future high-speed rail.

The Network Southwest report, written by Greg Gormick in March 2015, outlines the need for VIA Rail services to be upgraded to HPR standards as one of its three building blocks. The plan also includes feeder bus services to provide transit between trains and communities off the rail lines and mobility hubs to connect all transportation modes, including local traffic.

All of this can be done efficiently and seamlessly. There are already several successful models of rail-based regional public transport solutions in the U.S. One of the characteristics they all share is the joint support of federal and state governments. A joint approach by federal and provincial governments in Canada could bring about the mobility improvements needed in regions like southwestern Ontario, and such a transit solution could become a template for other parts of Canada.

A successful precedent for innovation happened after the federal Liberal government slashed half the rail passenger service in Canada in the1990s. In response to that void, the Ontario NDP government partnered with VIA and restored a London-Toronto train that was threatened by the axe. This restored service was a crucial link that the provincial government knew must be saved. It was a matter of determination and foresight.

Bill C-640 would allow Canadians and this Parliament to evaluate cases where VIA Rail plans to eliminate a required route and would call on Parliament to study, debate, and then vote on the recommendations in the minister's report, thus giving Parliament the final decision. Interestingly, that is what our system is supposed to do: ensure that Parliament, and not the party in power, has a role in vital national decisions.

VIA serves three well-populated corridors in southwestern Ontario, and there are many factors in favour of improving these routes. First of all, they service one of the highest population densities in Canada. They can be utilized by significant numbers of students in numerous colleges and universities, students who do not have access to cars.

These routes bring visitors to tourist and cultural attractions, including the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. They have close proximity to Toronto, which is a destination and an economic hub. They decrease often difficult travel on Highway 401 and the QEW. Both those highways can be very hazardous at any time of year.

I have had occasion to meet with numerous community organizations in London and area that rely on VIA Rail for their transportation. Groups like the University of Western Ontario Student Council and Fanshawe Student Union have a keen interest. A significant segment of the London workforce relies on VIA Rail to commute to the GTA. The intercommunity travel between London, Sarnia, Windsor and Toronto is vital to all of our local economies.

The London Chamber of Commerce and business leaders in the community know that without dependable VIA Rail service, many community jobs would be lost. Bill C-640 provides effective measures to ensure that that does not happen.

As the London Free Press reported on April 11, new rail investment would create 30 to 36 new jobs and $3 million to $4 million in economic spinoffs. Bus network improvements would add to those regional economic benefits as well. The cost associated with Network Southwest's five-year plan is equivalent to the cost of building just one kilometre of subway in Toronto and the benefits are huge. American studies indicate that for each $1 million invested in rail, 30 jobs are created and GDP increases threefold.

When we consider the drain on the Canadian economy associated with motor vehicle accidents and injuries which cost us $22 billion per year, these benefits are impossible to ignore.

Rail Advocacy in Lambton says of Bill C-640 that the concept of a national rail policy is, in their view, a necessary step in supporting a sustainable passenger rail system for all Canadians. It says that without this legislation, Via Rail and Canada's passenger rail system is doomed to die a slow death, with no hope of resurrection, unless immediate restorative action is initiated. It says that it needs an affordable, frequent, marketable passenger rail service that ensures no passenger is ever left behind. It also says that this legislation is the first step in a long-overdue process that will make VIA Rail a viable, productive, successful national transportation agency.

Mike from London, Ontario, has written to remind me that next year will be the 160th anniversary of the London and Port Stanley Railway, the third oldest in Canada, founded in 1856. Included in all the other travellers who rode that line were big band musicians and fans headed to Port Stanley's famous Stork Club. Reconnecting London and St. Thomas to Port Stanley's beaches and shops again would be a boost to our local economy.

I also want to mention the work that is being undertaken by the City of London. I am encouraged by London's Shift initiative that presents a bold and important vision for transportation in our city. It focuses on rapid transit as part of the transportation system that will help our city grow and prosper.

The Shift proposal calls for London to conduct a public environmental assessment that allows citizen input in planning and designing the network. In addition, it will assess the need for rapid transit, and how rapid transit can alleviate such problems as congestion, overcrowded buses and the high cost of driving. The assessment will determine which streets are suitable for rapid transit and how they can be designed to improve mobility for everyone, and determine the form or forms of rapid transit that should be used. Shift is a City of London initiative that has great potential.

The integration and coordination of VIA Rail routes and services is vital to moving the population of London in, through and around the community. Bill C-640 lays the framework for that progress to happen.

I am very happy to stand in support of Bill C-640. It is good for the people of London and southwestern Ontario. It is good for all of Canada.

VIA Rail Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine now has five minutes for his right of reply.