Mr. Speaker, today we are debating a bill that makes significant changes to 13 existing laws and affects three different sectors, namely the air, rail, and marine sectors.
By introducing this grab-bag of a bill on transportation modernization, the Liberals are breaking their campaign promise to not introduce omnibus bills during their term. This is just one more broken promise. Let us face it; Bill C-49 has lost the media's attention. There seems to be some push-back now, after it was introduced under false pretences as dealing exclusively with the passengers' bill of rights to ensure rights and guarantees for all Canadians. Perhaps that is what the Liberals are going for, that is, a communication plan, a political strategy, and a few talking points designed to make people forget all of their mistakes and broken promises.
From the beginning of the session, the Liberals have been managing one disappointment after another and are drowning in a political quagmire: supply management threatened, the mishandling of the Netflix deal, incredibly long delays and chaos regarding the plan to legalize marijuana, and the Minister of Finance's conflict of interest regarding his botched tax reform. This government could really use some good news, and that is probably what it is going for here.
Nevertheless, it is our job as parliamentarians to scrutinize the repercussions of a bill and to have the courage to point out the risks and problems of a given measure, even if that is not a popular move. That is what the Conservative Party did when the government introduced tax reforms that it framed as fair but that we figured out were anything but. That is what the Conservative Party has done since this bill was introduced. My colleague the member for Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, who sits on the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, talked to her committee about asking the government to split the bill into four parts to make it easier for the committee to examine it closely. Every single one of the Liberal members said no, and they refused to explain themselves. Canadians do not see that as a confidence-inspiring move on the government's part; it is the kind of decision that feeds the public's cynicism towards politicians.
First of all, let us clarify a misconception: this bill does not specify what compensation passengers might be entitled to; it only establishes that they will eventually be eligible for compensation. We are to vote on the form, but not on the substance. We have no real information whatsoever. The government would rather shirk this responsibility and hand it over to the Canadian Transportation Agency. We are asked to vote on a blank cheque.
That is not all. If we give the Canadian Transportation Agency the responsibility of deciding which regulations will be part of the passengers' bill of rights, we also give the Minister of Transport the power to be the sole advisor to the CTA. That means that penalties will not be set by an independent body, unless the minister objects to these penalties and imposes his own proposals. How ironic for members to have to vote on handing over all of their powers to a single minister, the Minister of Transport. How ironic for an elected official to be allowed to deliberately influence an independent, non-partisan agency.
The Canadian Transportation Agency will therefore not be able to consult consumer groups, airlines, airports, or any other stakeholder in the sector, only the Minister of Transport. That is not all. The minister is also giving himself extensive powers to approve joint ventures between airlines. That power traditionally belongs to the Competition Bureau, which should also be independent and non-partisan, and certainly operate at arm's length from the Minister of Transport.
The lack of integrity and transparency in the process is quite apparent, but mostly it is troubling. If the minister cannot bear to allow the agency to establish its own standards, he should simply present them to the House and give all members a say on the matter.
There is another false message: the purpose of the bill is to reduce travel costs for Canadians, while improving service, and yet the reverse could happen. The costs related to the bill could force consumers to pay more, since they will have to pay for the new regulations, for example, regarding overbooking.
If the goal is to enable Canadians to travel for less, why not just lower taxes for airline companies, which already have a narrow profit margin, by cancelling the carbon tax, for example? Canada already has more than enough aviation legislation. Today, the government is just making it more cumbersome and complicated and forcing passengers to foot the bill.
The third inaccurate and false message is that this bill is a new air passengers' bill of rights. That is how the government is presenting it, but in reality, it will also affect three other modes of transportation and amend 13 different laws. Passengers' rights and benefits are just part of the bill. By leading Canadians to believe that this bill simply creates a new bill of rights, the Minister of Transport is glossing over a good portion of the bill, the part that is much more controversial and unpopular. The goal of this voluntary oversight is clear: to control the media message and ensure that the Liberal government does not make any more mistakes by announcing controversial measures.
That is why the transport minister failed to mention that the bill will allow foreign investors to own up to 49% of the shares in a Canadian company, give the transport minister the power to approve joint ventures, update the Canadian freight system, require railways to install audio-video recorders in locomotives that could be used for disciplinary purposes, and amend the Canada Marine Act so that port authorities can go through the Canada infrastructure bank that the government just created.
On top of all that, passengers' rights advocates and many consumer protection agencies are opposed to the bill as it was introduced by the Minister of Transport. Gabor Lukacs of Air Passenger Rights thinks that the bill of rights will not adequately protect passengers and that it would be more effective for Canadians to take legal action.
Jeremy Cooperstock, associate professor at McGill University and founder of a passenger rights web site, felt that this bill did nothing to protect air passengers and that the air transport regulations and the Carriage by Air Act already do the bulk of what is promised in this bill. In other words, we are reinventing the wheel. The Liberals are very good at that.
As if that were not enough, case-by-case management of the complaints and the long-haul tariff being charged to the railways could add more red tape. We will have to hire extra people and hope that consumers do not get discouraged by the response time and drop their complaint. In short, no one will come out ahead and no Canadian will be better protected.
I urge the House to be wary of the smokescreen this Liberal government is deploying today to make us forget its endless string of failures, disappointments, and disorganized policy ad libbing. I also urge all my parliamentary colleagues to be wary of the scope of power that this bill would give the Minister of Transport. We must also closely monitor the minister's dangerous intrusion into independent, non-partisan organizations such as the Transportation Agency and the Competition Bureau.
Lastly, to all those who are thrilled by the prospect of passengers getting more rights, I must point out that this bill makes no provision for consumer compensation. I would remind all members who are planning to support this bill that they will not be able to boast of having voted to improve rights and protections for the Canadian public.
Passengers' rights advocates are all profoundly disappointed to see this issue fumbled yet again. The bill before us is incomplete, imprecise, and totally inconsistent. It would be deeply troubling if it were to pass in its present form.
This bill is yet another sloppy rush job aimed at grabbing even more power by any means possible and entrusting it to a single individual, in this case the Minister of Transport. The same thing happened with the Minister of Finance's tax reform plan. We need to be extremely vigilant. I urge all members, even those on the Liberal side, if they have the guts, to condemn this bill and vote against it.