Motion No. 14
That Bill C-49 be amended by deleting Clause 73.
Motion No. 15
That Bill C-49 be amended by deleting Clause 74.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise and speak to my report stage amendments to Bill C-49, the transportation modernization act.
This bill amends 13 other acts. It deals with planes, trains, and ships. It touches on airports and seaports. It is vast in its reach and wide in its scope. Yet, if I had to state my thoughts on this bill in two words, it would be “missed opportunity”.
Through Bill C-49, the government had the opportunity to make great strides in improving our Canadian transportation system to ensure that it works well for all Canadians. Instead, the government let that chance go by.
The transport committee began special hearings on Bill C-49 in the week prior to the House's return from its summer recess. Over the course of that week, we heard 44 hours of testimony from dozens of stakeholders and expert witnesses in each of the sectors touched on by Bill C-49. We were given briefs and letters, consisting of thousands of pages of data, with over 100 suggested technical amendments from those whose lives and livelihoods will be affected by this bill.
We heard, almost unanimously, that Bill C-49 was a good start, and that if the suggested amendments were made, the bill would actually accomplish its stated objectives. However, after only two weeks to review this mountain of information, the Liberal members of the transport committee defeated over 24 reasonable technical amendments. Again, these amendments were suggested by a wide range of stakeholders and experts, and were written to make the bill a workable solution for all involved.
The good new is that there are still some amendments we can make here at report stage of this bill. I will be suggesting four amendments, as they were moved. The first of these has to do with airline joint ventures. Joint ventures, while sometimes useful for creating efficiencies for airlines on routes in the air passenger industry, can also run the risk of comprising consumer interests due to the loss of competition on a given route, and the ensuing increase in ticket prices.
That is why the decision to grant or deny an application for a joint venture has historically been left in the hands of the very capable Competition Bureau and the Commissioner of Competition. Bill C-49 would change that. If the bill were to pass in its current form, the Minister of Transport would have the final say on whether or not two airlines could combine routes and share cost and profit.
Further, this bill stipulates that the Minister of Transport must consider the nebulous terms “public interest”, and not simply whether or not a proposed joint venture would reduce competition. I use the word “nebulous” to describe the terms “public interest”, because over the past two years, far too often we have seen the Liberal government and its ministers claim to be serving the public interest while, in fact, they are only serving their own political or personal interests.
The recent political machinations that led to the cancellation of energy east come to mind as an example of the government serving its own political interests rather than the interests of all Canadians.
However, getting back to the amendment before us, this change gives an uncomfortable amount of power to the Minister of Transport over the currently non-partisan process and over the Competition Bureau. Bill C-49 risks taking a non-political process and politicizing it.
Bill C-49 also introduces an option for airport authorities to purchase the services of additional security personnel from CATSA. Ostensibly, additional staffing would increase the speed at which travellers are processed through security. On the surface, increasing security and processing speed to ensure that travellers remain safe while not missing their flights sounds like a good idea. However, there are two significant areas of concern.
The first has to do with costs. Air travel in Canada is already among the most expensive in the world. This provision could increase the costs even more. We all know that any added cost for the airports would simply be passed along to the end user, making air travel for middle-class Canadians even more expensive.
Second, we heard in testimony throughout the study of this portion of Bill C-49 that the federal government currently takes more in security fees than it provides back to CATSA to perform its duties. I believe this is unacceptable.
This is the opposite of making travel more affordable for Canada's middle class. Bill C-49 would, rather than addressing the issue, simply impose yet another de facto tax on Canadian travellers. For this reason, I have proposed a report stage amendment to remove this clause from the bill.
I am also proposing an amendment to remove two other clauses, clauses 73 and 74, from Bill C-49 that would give port authorities access to the Liberals' infrastructure bank. The infrastructure bank is funded by taking $15 billion away from infrastructure projects for small and medium-sized communities across Canada through the Liberals' imposition of a $100 million minimum cost requirement for projects to qualify for support from the infrastructure bank. Small and medium-sized communities would see almost no benefit as a result. While I understand that our ports are in need of infrastructure investments, the infrastructure bank is not the way to address this.
While these are the report stage amendments I am proposing, I was very disappointed by the display of partisanship at committee when this bill was reviewed. At committee, my colleague from the NDP, the member for Trois-Rivières, and I proposed small, reasonable, technical amendments, which were defeated by the Liberals at committee.
For instance, with the introduction of long-haul interswitching, the Liberals sought to create their own solution to a problem which had already been addressed with a reasonable Conservative solution.
In the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act, the previous Conservative government had created a regime of extended interswitching that worked so well in the prairie provinces that shippers from across Canada requested that it be extended to the entire country.
Instead, the Liberals created the complicated, inefficient long-haul interswitching regime that has such poor conception, and so many exceptions, it will be all but useless to shippers. For example, the member for Trois-Rivières and I both proposed an amendment requested by many stakeholders that would have made LHI work that much better.
This minor technical amendment would have changed the wording of the provision to allow the first interchange point to be in the reasonable direction of the shipper's destination. What does that mean exactly? Simply put, shippers did not want to have to send their product potentially hundreds of kilometres in the wrong direction to reach the nearest interchange point, as this would increase their costs. What happened to this very reasonable technical amendment? The Liberals defeated it. It was another huge missed opportunity to make this bill work.
Meanwhile, not content to make this measure simply worthless, the Liberals may have actually succeeded in making it harmful. In Bill C-49, toxic inhalation hazards, known as TIHs, are exempted from long-haul interswitching, supposedly due to safety concerns. However, this is not a reasonable exemption to make. TIHs are shipped under an extensive safety regime, as prescribed under the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act and its regulations.
The real concern is that this exemption undermines the principle of the common carrier obligation. This principle essentially states that railways are obligated to carry all products without discrimination, and allows shippers to access the railway's services without unreasonable carriage fees or threats of denial of service. Denying access to long-haul interswitching for TlHs could be the thin edge of the wedge that would one day break apart the common carrier principle.
Ten minutes is not nearly long enough to list every reasonable technical amendment that the Liberals voted against. Suffice it to say this bill is full of missed opportunities. It is my hope the government will take a small step forward, and accept our report stage amendments.